A pale sun rose over the Dimrill Dale, revealing the stark reflections of snow-covered mountains in the still waters of Nen Cenedril. Thin rays of sunshine painted the peaks of Caradhras and Celebdil in a warm gold, setting them off against an overcast sky. The low lands were still bare this early in firith, but the dark clouds seemed a harbinger of snow.
On the bank of the lake, a small group of travellers had gathered around a small fire. Some were talking, others just watching the sun rising while they drank their morning tea. Two young elves stood out, not only for their inky-black hair among the blond and brown tones of their fellows, but also for being the spitting image of each other. One of them was talking to an imposing, silver-haired, elf pointing up into the mountains and the valley, before he returned to his companion.
“Grandfather hopes to have the pass crossed by nightfall,” Elladan said, sitting down at his brother’s side and handing him a steaming cup. “We will break camp shortly. There is a storm looming, but if we wait the pass might be impassable.”
Elrohir, always taciturn in the morning, only grunted in reply, looking over to where Celeborn sat cross-legged, deep in conversation with the captain of their guard. It felt strange to see their grandparents like this, clad in leather trousers and a woollen tunic under a leather jerkin. Both had also spent the night in simple bedrolls under the stars like everybody else. Odd, Elrohir thought, to know them for so long and still travel in their company for the first time.
His brother tied his bedroll to a saddlebag. “I wish we could have stayed longer.”
Elrohir grinned. “I dare say! This has nothing to do with a certain golden-haired archer, has it now?”
Elladan blushed, knowing only too well that he could not hide anything from his twin. “Nothing to be done about that, though. You know that we need to be home in time to celebrate our first yén.”
“Yes, of course.” Elrohir sighed, emptying his cup and packing it away. “I do not need a celebration to mark the fact that I am now considered an adult. This is all just for show.” He also did not need another occasion to emphasise his young age, particularly not to a certain elf, but this was not something he would talk about.
“Have you taken into consideration that this occasion also marks the date for your elders to no longer be responsible for you and your education, deeming this as a welcome reason to celebrate?”
The twins looked up, both grinning about the amused voice of their grandmother. Elladan raised his eyebrow in an uncanny likeness to their father. “Ah, so this is what this celebration is about! And I thought mother just wants to parade us in front of all the simpering maidens set out to catch a mate!”
“I was not aware that there were any simpering maidens in Imladris,” Galadriel remarked drily, sitting down with crossed legs, as graceful in trousers and tunic as she was in her ethereal gowns. “It seems an odd date, true, but it is tradition, so we go with it. It is now so rarely that we see a young elf grow up and reach his full potential, that this alone is a reason to celebrate in my eyes.”
Elladan smirked. “So you do think we have reached our full potential, grandmother?”
Elrohir moaned in dismay, swatting his brother on the arm, but Galadriel only laughed.
“As if I would ever tell you that, brat.”
She turned to Elrohir, looking at him with that pervasive gaze of hers. “Do not worry,” she said softly. “It will not be as bad as you fear.”
He looked down, fiddling with the buckle of his bag, wishing he had not braided his hair and could hide behind it. As usual, his grandmother had guessed right away what troubled him. Or perhaps she even knew it? He could never tell. Elladan and he were returning home, after nearly two decades spent in Lothlórien, for this celebration of their one hundred and forty-fourth begetting day which marked the final transition of a young elf into adulthood. From now on, they would be regarded as fully grown in every respect, and given the full duties and responsibilities of an adult. He actually looked forward to this, longing to put behind him this time of passage for young elves, and find his place among his peers.
Elrohir would have much preferred to undergo this transition anywhere but in Imladris. For Imladris was the place where he would forever be a child to some, and particularly a certain elf whom he desperately longed to see him as an adult. His cheeks flushed with embarrassment at the memory of their last encounter, when Elrohir had, after years and years of agonized longing, finally dared to voice his feelings, and had been turned kindly, but determinedly down. When, not long after, their grandparents had invited the twins to an extended stay in Lothlórien, he had been more than glad to accept.
Elrohir felt Galadriel’s arm coming around him and allowed himself to lean into her gentle hug for a moment. Then came the call to break up camp, and he jumped up, relieved to occupy his mind with other things.
Dancing snowflakes accompanied the travellers as they made their way down the steep incline to the Hidden Valley. They were looking forward to the comforts of the Last Homely House, weary from the sudden onset of winter which had hindered their journey by forcing them to travel farther out into the plains than intended. Even following the Bruinen had been demanding through the ceaselessly drifting snow, which had covered everything with an unusually thick layer of white.
The twins rode ahead, side by side, as soon as the path allowed. After they had passed the first guard post, familiar horn signals preceded them to announce their arrival, and they sped up, eager to meet their parents and to be back home. Yet, entering the courtyard, they were not met with the expected reception party, but with a surprising commotion centred around a group of exhausted travellers who had arrived just a short while ago. Neither their father nor one of his usual attendants were in sight. They dismounted, and, while Elladan took care of their horses, Elrohir went in search of somebody to see to the Lord and the Lady of Lothlórien, and to find out what was going on. He had not come far when he was nearly run over by a tall, blond, elf hurrying down the stairs from the house, and found himself enfolded in a bear hug by the captain of Imladris.
“Elrohir!” Glorfindel exclaimed delightedly, “you are back! Where is your brother? Why have you not been announced?”
With a relieved grin, Elrohir hugged him back and nodded towards the rumps of their steeds vanishing around a corner. “He is taking the horses to the stable. We have been announced, I heard the signals myself, but it seems people are too occupied to notice. Whatever is happening here?”
Glorfindel sobered.“A travelling party hailing from the Greenwood. They have been surprised by the snow storm and were caught in a rockslide, taking some of them with it. They just arrived with many injured. Your father is seeing to them as we speak.”
“How terrible. Are all of their group accounted for?”
“No. Three are still missing, as it was impossible to get down to where they must have been carried.” His face grew rigid with barely contained worry. “Erestor is among them.”
Elrohir paled and staggered back, saved from falling by Glorfindel’s firm grip on his arm. “Erestor? But how - why - why has he been in the Greenwood?” The closest friend and right hand of his father was notorious for his dislike of travelling and had not left their valley since before the twins were born.
“He was visiting the Greenwood over the summer for the bonding ceremony of his brother but wanted to be back home in time for your celebration.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of Galadriel and Celeborn. Glorfindel went to greet the high guests and make sure they were well cared for. Elrohir stood numb, digesting the shocking news. Nobody knew, nobody must know, in fact - but Erestor was the one he longed for, as much as he was afraid to see again, the one who - Elrohir bit his lip to suppress a sob. The one he loved ever since he could remember, but who would never love him back.
He felt arms coming around him and buried his face in the familiar embrace of his brother. His brother, who knew even if they had never talked about it, who knew all the secrets of his heart, as he knew his.
“I just heard,” Elladan said, “but I believe it is not as bad as it sounds. The captain of their escort says that the rear guard, where Erestor was, was not affected as badly, but the rockslide prevented them from getting down to them. A search party is just about to leave.”
“I must go with them, Lado, I must!” Elrohir lowered his voice as his grandparents were now approaching with Glorfindel, but it was too late, he had been overheard.
“That is out of the question.” Glorfindel laid his hand on Elrohir's arm, but he shrugged him off.
“Please, Glorfindel, you do not understand -”
The captain shook his head.
“No. Not right now, Elrohir. You are exhausted from your own journey, you would be more of a hindrance than a help. I am leading a second rescue team which leaves at first light. You can come along, provided you get a good night’s rest and have a decent meal.”
Elrohir’s shoulders slumped, but he conceded defeat. Glorfindel was right, of course, he was exhausted, but also horribly worried.