Lost children of the sun
Autumn crept into the valley. Red and gold leaves blanketed garden pathways with too-few feet to crunch them under and swish them back into the browning flower beds. How appropriately this season fit over the empty ribcage of Imladris’ chest.
Elladan spun away from the window. His sister’s room greeted him, as empty and silent as when he’d entered. The bedding had been stripped, and sheets spread over the mattress and cushioned furniture to ward off dust. Arwen had taken her most prized processions when she left for the last time. But the trek to Minas Tirith was long, and many little things, the mementoes of a lifetime that stretched an Age of the world, were left behind.
The bookshelves stood more than half-full. Arwen had never been an avid reader, and Elladan, with his hunger for history, used to gift her books and only books, a running joke between them. But that was before everything changed.
He ran a finger over the spines, each one evoking a memory of his sister’s laugh and a witty comment thrown back. She used to tease him that he could recite the entire Battle of Sudden Flame by memory, every skirmish, every deed of heroism and desperation recorded and passed down through the Ages. She was right. As a child he devoured the old tales, in love with a world long buried beneath the sea. He fantasized he was back in one of the great stories, fighting side-by-side with Fingon the Valiant or High King Fingolfin, going to war alongside the faces of the dead. He thought it all wondrously glorious, and his own world a pale shadow to what had come before.
Elrohir fantasized with him, and helped him reenact the famous battles and doomed duels to the death. Elrohir liked the stories they made up about their own coming greatness best. He used to map out elaborate plots of how the two of them would fight the coming diminishment of their people, and herald in a new Golden Age of the Noldor, as if a slow descent into a twilight existence was something they could tackle like a Dragon.
Elladan turned away. Those were old memories, and yet formative ones. Elrohir had been searching for that Dragon all his life. Even when the hate sucked him under, still, that root of longing persisted, that silent scream against the world they’d been born into with its resigned necks and mouths shaping the words of surrender, hearts moored in what once-was, never looking forward, as if the Noldor were already buried and cold in the ground.
Elladan forced away the ancient anger climbing his spine. His heart still beat, and his blood still ran red and yearning for more. He would never lay himself down in a bed of autumn leaves and surrender himself to the prophesied fading.
Someone had been caring for Arwen’s potted plants. Their heads were all perked up, arms reaching towards the sunlight streaming in through the window. Arwen loved growing things, as their mother had. It was the Sindar in them. Elrohir was the same, not a tender of plants, but he had a connection with the wild, a nearest to nature, that left Elladan, with his Noldorin love of lore and the way elegant stone-work drew his admiring eye, did not share.
Arwen had only this one spot of Sinda in her, and she nurtured it as the connection to Mother it was. She had a Noldo’s skilled hands upon a needle, and a touch of Grandmother in her. When Elrohir started treating her like a crushable flower, taking such care with her person and spirit, she lost her temper. She had no patience for his perpetual failure to see her, any woman, without the lens of Celebrían clouding all lines and leaving the scars of savaging hands breaking a body and spirit in two.
Elladan made a silent note to inquire after the thoughtful soul who’d kept Arwen’s flowers in health. He would have hated to see them withered; a fore-coming to how her body would—
The memory of Arwen and Estel seated together in the King’s Garden, her belly rounding with their next child, haunted him since Elrohir and he rode out of Minas Tirith. It had been a moment like a hundred others, but he had been hit with the reality he’d been running from since the day he smiled and toasted his sister and Estel at their wedding feast (no, before that, back to the day he’d first looked into Arwen’s eyes when she spoke of Estel and knew her Choice had already been made): Arwen was going to die. Estel was going to die. And there was nothing he could do to stop it, and nothing he could do to slow down time.
He wished, so sharply he could taste the sting of it in his mouth, that his father was here. He missed him. But thinking about him was as painful as the loss because they had not parted well. They had been on poor terms for centuries, and he regretted it more than ever now. Now it was too late to change it. Elrohir and he may never sail, may never get another chance to let their father hold them like he’d ached to do for all these years they spurned his embraces. They may never get to fold their love into his chest and watch the suffering of so many hurtful words and empty years ease from their father’s eyes.
Elladan didn’t even know if Elrohir missed their father. From the way his twin shied away from speaking of their father with anything but a furious inflection when Elrond’s name spat off his tongue, Elladan thought he did.
Arranged prominently around Arwen’s plant collection lay his old sketching and paint supplies. She’d even set up the easel before the window so the sunlight could caress its empty canvass.
Elladan threw all these memories out and the tools with them in those first, dark years after Mother’s leaving when he was as angry with the world as Elrohir. Arwen had briskly salvaged them. She’d set them up in her room and told him they would be ready for him when he was ready to start living again.
He ran his hands over the smooth, blank canvas, then down to the little jar stuffed with brushes. He picked one up, felt the softness of its tip. His fingers ran over the carefully arranged charcoals and inks, lingering.
Something built in the back of his teeth, a wound grown ancient and festering, screaming to be released, popped open and dug out like an insect burrowed under the skin. Elrohir’s face, contorted in rage, eyes flooded with pain he could only spit out in violence, rose up like a cobra’s head in his mind.
Elrohir was out there now, in the wilds, hunting Orcs. Running, always running. Elladan should be there with him, burning up with rage a match to his brother’s but…the hate no longer consumed him, the grief no longer thrust him out on the dark road of vengeance.
Elladan’s hand dropped from the relicts of a past self. He shouldn’t have come to his sister’s room. Ghosts walked the halls of the Last Homely House; there was a reason Elrohir and he did not linger within its walls. He ran as swiftly as Elrohir, but his path no longer took him into blood-lust.
The door burst open, snapping Elladan’s head around, his hand instinctively reaching for his sword hilt, but falling on air. He’d left his sword in his rooms after he’d washed off the grime of the road.
Erion stood in the doorway, one hand gripping the door’s latch, cheeks flushed and out of breath. “You’re finally back!” His eyes, bright and shinning like black opals, raked over Elladan, taking all of him in from the tip of his boots, up the midnight-blue tunic with its stitch-work of silver leaves and curling vines accented by pearls, and finally to his washed and braided hair.
Elladan took a moment to examine the half-Elf back. Erion had shot up in the months of Elladan’s absence, and his body no longer strictly resembled that of a child. It had picked up the promise of broadness in shoulder and length of leg. But Erion was still a youth, and it showed in the eagerness of his face as he looked up at Elladan like his hero. A child’s delusions.
“You’ve grown,” Elladan said.
Erion perked up as any boy would, but in his own special way. He didn’t puff out his chest or throw back his shoulders and stand a little taller. No, Erion shrugged, all his pleasure contained in his toothy grin, and said, “Give me another two hundred years and I might scrape a Silvan’s height.”
Elladan found himself smiling. Erion had this way about him that made the shadows vanish in the air around him. Maybe it was the hope he represented to Elladan. Erion was the fulfillment of faded dreams. He was the next generation, overflowing with energy and life. He was what could have been for their people if only the Noldor had not let themselves be coiled into the shadows like beaten cats.
I would like to see Human blood hold you back from growing just as tall as you liked.”
Erion snorted and left the doorway to push deeper into the room. “I would have been down to greet you in the courtyard, but Father said I had to finish my Essay on Drollness first.”
Elladan’s mouth quirked, “Sounds like a fascinating paper.”
Erion laughed, the sound free and loud. Erion had always laughed with confidence, never thinking to quiet himself, cover his mouth with a hand, or apologize for his mirth. Erion had been surrounded by love all his life. “I’m thinking of writing a book on the topic after all the experience I’ve had in my lessons.”
Elladan smiled, closing the distance between them to ruffle Erion’s dark curls. “Don’t be so quick to dismiss your education or you’ll end up a tanner’s apprentice and never be able to scrub the stench of hides out of your skin.”
Erion grinned, “I could at least aim for farm boy. I inherited some ambition with my Noldo-blood.”
“That’s news to me,” Elladan walked passed, hearing Erion’s indignant reply as he headed for the door.
Erion dashed after him. “I have more than enough ambition to be a top turnip farmer!”
Elladan snorted, angling a glance down as Erion caught up with him and kept pace at his side. “Careful now. We live in an Age where ambition is a dirty word, don’t go crowing over your abundance of this most dangerous of traits.”
The Noldor’s surrender to the ‘inevitability’ of their diminishment went hand-in-hand with the birth of fear for reaching too high; their people seemed doomed to fall every time they jumped for the stars. Heads had bowed, the air of acceptance and complacency creeping in to snuff out their natures. The mighty Noldor subdued by their own fear, and the ever-young memory of bloody knees.
The last Elven universities stood empty beside the halls of Gil-galad’s palace in Lindon. The Great Libraries of Gondolin, Nargothrond, Eregion, and the amassed knowledge of the Fëanorions guarded and treasured in Curufin’s lands (the most prized libraries of them all for it was said Fëanor’s own works were housed within) had been whittled down through flame and decay until all that remained of the knowledge of the great minds of their people had made its way here, to a library known for its vastness. Imladris’ library would have been measured mediocre by the standards of old.
No Festival of Colors where artists gathered and presented their latest works had been held in this Age. No Guilds of Masters gathered to debate the mysterious of the world and dazzle it with fresh inventions and innovative ideas. Only the memory of what once was remained.
All the songs sung in the Hall of Fire embalmed the glory of old. All the tutors instructing the young minds of the Third Age presented the greatness of what the Noldor once achieved with no thought of preparing young minds for what might yet be accomplished. Elladan had been born into the autumn of his people, a pretty time but one full of slow decay. Even the name bestowed upon his sister –the Evenstar—spoke of their spiral towards the last goodnight.
Elladan could not allow himself to linger in such thoughts. He looked down at Erion, finding dark eyes already watching him. “Have you been keeping up with your training?”
Erion gave him a look. “You think I’d let you catch me going soft?”
“For your rear’s sake I hope not. Because I am taking you out to the training fields tomorrow morning and your backside will feel every one of the day’s you lazed about.”
The tips of Erion’s ears pinked. “Glorfindel’s been training me. I’ve improved loads since last we spared.”
Elladan raised a skeptical brow. “We will see about that.”
Erion tossed his curly head, slanting a mischievous smile up. “You will see. Glorfindel is your superior in swordsmanship, even you admit that. Maybe I picked up some tricks, and it will be your backside feeling it tomorrow!”
Elladan reached over and tweaked Erion’s ear, earning a playful glare. “There won’t be any moves I haven’t seen before. Glorfindel taught Elrohir and I how to wield a sword. Didn’t he tell you?”
Erion huffed, but got a laugh out of this, taking it all in a good-natured stride. Of course Glorfindel hadn’t told him. Erion’s childish dreams of competing with his mentor was just the kind of flame Glorfindel would fan, wholly approving of the competitive drive he could milk to squeeze the last drop of sweat out of Erion. Glorfindel could be a real beast in training. Elladan swore he had a secret sadistic streak.
“Off with you now,” he made a shooing gesture. “I have business with your father you could write a whole book on drollness about.” Erion opened his mouth to protest, but Elladan settled a hand in the narrow valley between his shoulder blades and gave him a gentle push, “Scoot.”
Erion was nothing like Estel who would have swallowed his disappointment but obediently done as told. Not Erion. He kept tagging right along. “What are you going to talk about?”
“All the boring happening in the valley since I’ve been away. Now go,” Elladan made another gesture.
“I don’t want to. Besides, you can’t have much to discuss, nothing ever happens here worth an official report over. Baragod and Gildor arranged a rafting competition last spring. You should have been here. And Glorfindel made sure Father didn’t skip the summer Games, even though everyone says they aren’t worth holding now most everyone’s sailed. He had the idea to invite the Wood-elves and Sea-Elves (not that any of the Shore Folk came), but arches traveled from the Greenwood. Not many. Glorfindel says we have to give them a chance to get used to the idea, and Maglor told him if he was set on the idea he should give more warning next time so the young Elves in Ithilien can come –make a big event out of it. Glorfindel says he will. You can’t miss next year’s; it’s going to be amazing. You and Elrohir just have to compete—”
“We’ll talk about this later. Don’t you have some studies to get back to?”
Erion shrugged, “Sure. But I’ve gotten free now, what’s the sense in going back? Say, I have a bit of arithmetic homework. Could you help me out with it?”
“No.” There was a defiant edge of irritation in Elladan’s voice now.
Erion shrugged again. “You know I‘m not half-bad at maths. I just hate reading the story-problem parts. But, sure, yeah, if you don’t want to, that’s fine.”
Elladan sighed. “Very well. You can bring it to my rooms after dinner tonight, just so long as you understand I will not be doing it for you.”
Erion flashed him a brilliant grin. “You’re the best!”
Elladan shook his head, a smile finding its way to his mouth. He wouldn’t be surprised to learn Erion hadn’t done a day’s worth of homework without an adult right there at his elbow (wheedled into doing it for him half the time) since he first began his studies. “But I’ll only help on the condition you go find someone else to entertain you for the rest of the afternoon. I have business, Erion.”
Erion’s smile dimmed, and he obeyed at last. He dragged his feet, but let Elladan break away with a stride of long legs. Elladan could feel the boy’s eyes on his back. Perhaps the boy was feeling neglected. Though how a child as dotted on and poured with attention could feel neglected was a riddle. He hoped it wasn’t a sign Erion was growing narcissistic.
He found Erestor in his office as he’d anticipated. With the twin’s frequent absences, the running of Imladris fell to Erestor.
Before everything had changed with their mother’s torment, Elladan would have found it inconceivable that he’d pass up the chance to govern Imladris just how he wanted it. His father used to entrust him with diplomatic missions, Elladan eager to test his metal and explore new lands and cultures. He had been the Elves’ foremost ambassador with the Kings of Arnor before the kingdom’s fall.
Oh what dreams Elrohir and he had had for their people’s future! What grand ambitions! And how long ago they all fell to blood and violence, and the grief pulsing through it all like a heartbeat.
Erestor looked up at his entrance. “Cleaned up I see.” Erestor had already met him in the courtyard at his arrival. Father used to do that, whenever he wasn’t tied up in meetings or an urgent healing. But Elladan didn’t want to think about Elrond waiting faithfully on the terrace steps for his wild, cruel boys to ride home to him (only never really to him; they made sure he never forgot that).
“A bath does wonders for the disposition,” Elladan threw himself in the chair opposite Erestor’s desk. The desk still wore scrolls and stacks of parchment like a creased dress, but their weight was nothing to the work once burying it back when this valley boasted thousands of Noldor.
Erestor cast his quill aside with the last flourished signature, and leaned back in his chair. “So. You are back.” He pinned Elladan with a measuring look. “Any idea how long you plan to stay?”
Elladan’s gaze slid passed him, out to the window beyond Erestor’s shoulder. Autumn lay with vibrancy and decay over the valley. “We might winter here. It is up to Elrohir.” Everything would depend on Elrohir’s mood when he arrived, and how many ghosts and haunting memories he could bear before the need to run caught up with him again.
Erestor made a noise in the back of his throat, non-committal. He laced long, pale fingers together, and watched Elladan out of eyes black as the stars’ canvas. Elladan forbid himself from shifting like an Elfling caught out under his father’s gaze. That was the problem with Erestor, that had always been the problem: he was too tied up with Elrond in the twins’ minds for them to look at him without seeing Elrond’s eyes peering out at them behind.
Elladan brushed off the impression of being seated under authority, and the regret with it. His hand fell to dangle over the chair’s armrest like art, and met Erestor’ eyes squarely, the past’s yowling muzzled again. “Tell me what has passed in my absence.”
Erestor bowed to the request with a slight incline of his head, acknowledging Elladan’s authority. The gestured would not have been needed with Elrond, but the twins had done much to sabotage Erestor’s respect for who they had once been. Elladan could acknowledge that –intellectually—even as his jaw clenched against the way Erestor made him earn the position he’d been born into all over again. He was no untried youth.
“The Dúnedain have put in a request for the southern fields –the ones just south of Falmarieth’s apple orchards—to be gifted to them. They argue that since the fields have lain unsowed since their owner’s sailing, it would be only good stewardship to make use of the land.”
Elladan breathed heavily through his noise. “You may give them my answer, and it is no. The Elves will maintain ownership of the fields. If they have need of more crop land, they can turn to their main settlement in the Angle, or one of the various towns popped up across Arnor. Imladris is an Elven-settlement. The Dúnedain inhabitants in our valley were accepted here in a time of crisis as a purely military out-post. I have allowed their continued residency, and even gifted them a greater portion of the valley when our numbers decreased so drastically with Father’s sailing, but all of those lands that remain I hold in safe-keeping.”
Erestor said nothing for a long moment, only studying his face, the firm set of his jaw, the unbending light in his gaze. Then he said, so carefully it rankled, “Our population has plummeted to a few hundred, while the Dúnedain’s has increased fourfold in the last 20 years. Two-thirds of their population is under the age of 20. That is a great deal of small mouths to feed, and growing minds to educate.”
The stubborn line of Elladan’s jaw did not soften. “Our own people may have need of that land again one day. I will not hand away the inheritance of the unborn.”
Erestor sighed, and Elladan wanted to hit him for the weary, defeated sound of it. “Elladan, you have to stop holding on to a dream that will never come to pass. No new Elves are going to be born in this valley.”
Elladan threw back, “The Silvan are re-populating their lands at a rate unheard of since the early Third Age. Even the Sindar who follow my grandfather have reported births. We have healthy males and females, married couples and single, there is no legitimate reason why the Noldor cannot do the same.”
“Elladan,” Erestor’s voice was too soft, as if he approached a horse he feared would bolt. “Outside of Erion, there hasn’t been a child born of Noldor-blood in 600 years. It is over. And we need to accept that.”
Elladan’s face chilled, and he stood. “I will consider leasing the pastures on the western slopes and even the southern fields the Human’s covet, but there will be no transfer of ownership. Education will also be arranged for the young ones. We can build a school house in the Human settlement and establish a yearly rotating post for instructor if no one volunteers for the assignment. History has taught us not to neglect our neighbors. We cannot bank on thousands of years of goodwill between our peoples when it comes to Mortals. Best to make sure we leave an imprint when their minds are tender.”
“Elladan, they will not be satisfied long with rent payments. You know how Human’s are about ownership of land, and with peace and prosperity, they will grow resentful of the smallest of restraints, finding slights that do not exist as they look through the eyes of envy for what they do not have. We must—”
“No.” Elladan’s voice sliced sharp and uncompromising. “I am still lord of this valley, and I have made my decision.” Erestor did not descend into the pettiness of pointing out Elrohir was the technical lord of Imladris as the firstborn. They both knew Elrohir had no interest in ruling, only hunting and running.
Elladan was not his father, and did not hold Erestor’s confidence and respect as Elrond had. So Erestor set parameters. “Very well, as long as we follow through with the offer of leasing the land, I believe the situation may rest in peace for some decades longer. But not indefinitely,” he finished with a warning.
It grated that Elladan did not have the authority to refuse Erestor’s demand. Erestor might allow him to get away with pressing the issue, but Elladan could not order Erestor to do anything Erestor did not willingly go along with. Elladan did not want the subservience offered a king, but he did want his decisions to hold more weight with Erestor then they were given. Erestor would have trusted Elrond’s judgment, even if he did not agree.
Elladan made to stride off with his pride clutched like a cloak about him from the room, but Erestor said behind him, “There are some further matters you may wish to be brought abreast of.”
Elladan delayed his exit, settling back into the chair and offering Erestor nothing but a politely cool glance. If he ever planned to re-claim his birthright he needed to remain connected with Imladris and its inhabitants (though that would require more than a few months stay). Erestor said nothing about the wall Elladan had risen between them. Elladan’s pride did not allow companionship, not that anything but the barest shavings of the relationship they once had remained.
My interpretation of the sons of Elrond was influenced by Ziggy’s magnificent The Sons of Thunder series and Spiced Wine’s crossover with Ziggy’s world: ~ Dark Star ~ . Thank you both for you beautiful works; I would not be writing the sons of Elrond now if you had not paved the way.
My eternal thanks also go out to Cheekybeak, whose wonderful discussions set me on the path of the story. Thank you for the inspiration :)
Lost children of the sun