Morning of 9 April
Since Formenos, the scions of Finwë, warriors all, have ever been fated to fight. Death came to all but a few, my brothers not least, in defence of what they loved in Endor. Elladan and Elrohir inherit that harsh heritage.
I end my musing to greet our newly-arrived grandsons, invoking the traditional blessing over lembas for their journey:
"May this gift of sustenance from Yavanna,
Lady of all that grows on earth,
confer upon you:
strength of fëa,
stamina of hröa,
steadiness of judgement,
staunchness of loyalty, and
steadfastness of courage."
Then I kiss these two worthy heirs on the brow.
"This invasion is clearly well-planned. The Power behind it reveals uncommon cunning, not seen on this scale since the line of Anárion was broken. That troubles me.
"Calenardhon is Gondor's weakest borderland. Once thriving, its population has dwindled, its defences decayed.
"I deem that the Steward has divided his forces. Some he left to defend his eastern marches; the rest he leads northwards, much as did Ondoher. As then, so now is the northern army too far extended.
"It may already be doomed to destruction, allowing the enemy to march on Minas Tirith."
The twins nod gravely.
"Gondor could fall."
"Flames of war are again kindled in Gondor. I, too, suspect the cruel hand of Shadow; what else could compel such unlikely collusion between sworn enemies?
"The Mirror confirms the Steward's army is even now in desperate straits, harried through Calenardhon towards Limlaith... to be surrounded within days. Battle, bloody and long, will be joined on Parth Celebrant.
"The Riders approach Loeg Ningloron. Once across Anduin, head north to seek them, keeping near the River.
"With the foreknowledge you impart, these Northmen may yet ward off Gondor's defeat — but time is short, and success uncertain.
"May the Valar guide you!"
"Anduin may only be forded by so many Riders together south of the Limlaith, where it flows into the great loops. You must then turn back northwards, crossing Limlaith to reach the battlefield.
"While you each have much experience skirmishing with Orcs, this combined force of Orcs and Easterlings is ominous. If the Mirror scries rightly, such hosts have not been marshalled since Ondoher fell.
"Galadriel's mist will afford you the advantage of surprise; even so, stay alert lest you be outflanked.
"And do not underrate these Balchoth. Though they be Men, they are fierce warriors, long steeped in Darkness."
Our grandparents' briefings complete, several lembas-maidens bring forth provisions. We thank them and fill our bags with bundles of lembas-cakes and skins of water from the crystalline springs of Lórien.
Arwen stands apart. Since childhood, she has fondly bid us fare well on untold Imladris patrols — but today she seems subdued. Outwardly tranquil, I sense her turmoil over our departure, mere months after Mother's sailing.
Though she has received archery training, never has Arwen trod a true warrior's path: neither sought danger to uproot it, nor taken a life to save another.
How can I help our heavy-hearted sister understand?
"My dear brothers, I cannot bear to lose you, too!"
Elladan enfolds me till I master myself.
"Arwen, when Mother sailed, Elrohir and I vowed to do aught in our power to protect all Free Peoples. This battle may see good Men fall — or live to stave off Darkness awhile longer. We can make a difference, no matter how slight, if we stand with them.
"Can you forgive us, Sister?"
I nod, embarrassed by my outburst.
"Have faith, Arwen," Elrohir adds. "Grandmother foresees our safe return."
From whence? Mandos? The Mirror can mislead!
Embracing them, I stifle my traitorous thoughts.
Ever have Elladan and Elrohir regarded me with love and delight in their eyes. While their delight in all things has dimmed since Mother sailed, I know their love will endure to the end of Arda.
Now, 'tis my turn to lend them support: a send-off befitting these great warriors.
"Your valour makes me proud, my brothers!"
I kiss each on the cheek.
"Be strong. Guard well each other's back." But....
I cannot resist pleading, "Come back whole!"
I return their brilliant smiles, before they turn away to take leave of Grandmother.
I will save my weeping till solitude allows.
"Undertaking this perilous duty shows great compassion. Celebrían will be proud when she learns of it."
Elrohir winces at her name; I lay my hand on his shoulder.
"Do not fault your absence for her capture; had you led her escort, you, too, would be slain.
"Though I do not comprehend Ilúvatar's designs, I do trust that they have purpose. You were meant to live on.
"And you will meet your mother again."
I smile at both. "Arwen voiced many of the parting thoughts I had planned. Only this would I add: know that you are loved and needed here!"
They salute, taking their warriors' leave from me. But, though I am commander here, I am also grandfather.
Their Man-dappled blood has ever called them to the struggles of Men against all Dark creatures. Now Orcs, above all, draw their implacable enmity.
Arwen weeps, not wishing her belovéd brethren to risk battle. But there is no need to implore them to return alive: the echoes of mighty Elu and fiery Elmo reverberate in their hearts. Have I not myself honed their war-skills with the prowess of the Galadhrim?
They are warriors. They do what they must.
I return their salute.
The barge rocks from the boatmen rowing us across Anduin, the rhythmic swish of oars muted by gleaming mist.
The fog thins as Lórien recedes; we emerge into dazzling sunshine. Suldal lifts his muzzle to sniff the freshening breeze, keen against our cheeks.
Narothal twitches, startled by the suddenly-loud oars, but stills at Elladan's soft murmurs and gentling hand.
As we land, insight flares in my mind: all our years of training — for diplomacy or war — served but to ready us for this very task. Elladan grows thoughtful at this revelation.
Oddly reassured, we urge our mounts north towards destiny.