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13
Many Paths and Errands Meet

Slowly Rivendell's trees shed their leaves, and the days grew shorter and more chill. Rowanna spent long afternoons with Bilbo and Frodo, closeted in the library hearing stories of the Elder Days. Even walking in the woods above the House with the pair reciting Elvish lessons could be managed without over-stretching Hobbit legs, since she found that while trying to remember her Sindarin grammar her long strides shortened to an easy amble.

As for Legolas, she began to suspect there was some truth to his jesting remarks about the Deep-elves and the Wood-elves, for he was not often seen in the Hall among Elrond's household. On the other hand, whereas most of the Elves seemed to treat Rivendell's many strange guests either with faint amusement or, at best, with a courteous detachment, she would often come across Legolas perched on a wall or a tree-root talking to one of the Hobbits; and once she glimpsed him leaning on a parapet overlooking the river, deep in conversation with the Steward's son. She had kept anxiously away from Boromir for some time after their uneasy first meeting; but whatever opinions - if any - he might have held about Rowanna's family and history, he had either decided not to make much of them, or had weightier concerns on his mind, and had exchanged passing greetings with her in passageway and hall civilly enough from time to time.

There was always work in the stables, too; the short hours of daylight had to be fully used if all the horses were to get sufficient exercise at this time of year. To Rowanna's surprise, Legolas would often appear as she was leading beasts out and ask if he might ride with her; I would have thought he'd prefer to be up in the trees, she mused, but perhaps he misses Culagor. She had to admit that, like so many of the Elves, he could be in such total accord with any mount as to make even the Rohirrim envious; he rode without tack, murmuring no more than the occasional word to make his wishes known. Had you ever asked me back in the Mark, she sometimes reflected, I would have said I had seen the greatest horsemanship Middle-earth had to offer; yet Brethil and the horse-masters here accomplish in a day what might take us weeks, for they truly speak to the beasts as even we cannot...

Trying not to dwell on the long leagues which lay between her and the horses she had left behind on the plains of the Riddermark, or the months before she could return to them, Rowanna found herself turning more and more often to a question which was puzzling her. The Hobbits, Glóin and Gimli, Boromir... what are they all waiting for? Oh, Rivendell was without doubt a pleasant enough place to sit out the winter - though in truth there had been time enough after the Council, for any fitter to ride than she, to depart east or south before the snows came down; most of the Dwarves had set off on their long line of ponies back towards the Lonely Mountain weeks ago, leaving only their chief spokesman and his son behind. There had been time to send out the various scouting parties, too. And scouting for what? she would wonder as she paced through the House on dank afternoons too dark to ride, or as her brush rasped rhythmically over Caradhras' gleaming red flanks.

She was piecing together fragments, slowly, catching snippets of conversations she was not meant to hear or was not thought to understand, matching them with sights and memories. The urgent demands for horses and gear for parties of scouts had suddenly been made after the great Council; something happened there, some decision, to send them all out. Elladan and Elrohir, too: "Elladan and I are off into the Wilds again tonight...we go secretly and watchfully, and therefore we go afoot." And there had been the great commotion about the coming of the Hobbits - rescued by Glorfindel and Aragorn from some terrible peril at the Ford of the Bruinen, on the same day that from the forested slopes she had heard that unearthly screech and the great thundering rumble of the river; rescued after the fair-haired stranger had brought a message about nazgûl that had sent the Elf-lords racing out of the valley, and chilled Bilbo's blood.

This all has something to do with Bilbo's ring, she insisted to herself as she helped sweep out the stable-yard. What was it Glóin was saying to Bilbo before I barged in on them that morning? Something about Sauron wanting a Ring? And sending it to the Fire? Always, in the end, the mystery seemed to come back to Rings: and to that verse on Bilbo's parchment which seemed burned into her memory, and which beat steadily in the back of her mind whenever she turned the problem over. One Ring to bring them all, One Ring to find them...

Oddly enough, it was the Hobbit Peregrin who solved the greater part of the puzzle for her. He had joined Bilbo and Frodo for part of their walk with Rowanna in the woods above the House one afternoon, and as the two older Hobbits lagged behind discussing an Elven verse which Rowanna did not know and Pippin took no interest in, their conversation turned instead to the Shire and its customs at the turning of the year.

"We shan't be back in time for Yuleday, I don't suppose," Pippin sighed. "Though perhaps for Lithe, that's our Midyear, if Frodo doesn't dawdle on the way to Mordor with the Ri - I mean, with you-know-what..."

Rowanna missed her footing and staggered. Fortunately, Pippin did not connect her stumble with his remark, and was too busy trying to help her regain her balance to notice her face. Only when they were strolling steadily again did she ask, as lightly as she could,

"Who else is going with Frodo, do you know?"

"Oh, well, Sam, of course," Pippin answered cheerily, "you wouldn't catch Sam letting Frodo go anywhere without him these days. And Gandalf says he might go with them. Merry and I want to go too, but I don't know if they will let us. Elrond says there must be a Company to guide and protect Frodo, so they'll probably want to send Elven warriors or something." He sighed, momentarily downcast. "I don't suppose Merry and I would be much good as warriors; I've got a sword - well, it's a dagger, really, from the Barrow-downs - but I don't know how to fight. Do you?

"I am no warrior either, Pippin!" Rowanna smiled despite herself. "I cannot use sword or bow; I'm quite a good shot with a sling and a pile of pebbles, though, for those are worthy weapons out on the plains if you are trying to drive a wolf away from new foals, as I've often had to do. You have to be an excellent shot to truly injure the wolf, but you can plague him enough to make him feel your herds are not worth the trouble..."

"You should learn to shoot," a voice came suddenly from above them. Rowanna rolled her eyes as, a moment later, a now-familiar green and brown form dropped from the canopy and Legolas grinned at the startled Hobbit. "Not a war-bow but a short hunting bow - that is the weapon for a rider!"

"That's a good idea!" Pippin put in excitedly. "Legolas could teach you - he can shoot, I've seen him -"

"Legolas was jesting, Pippin," Rowanna laughed. "The wolves are not yet grown so bold in the Riddermark that I need arrows to be rid of them!"

"Oh well," Pippin shrugged off the idea, " - what was that, Frodo?" as the two older Hobbits came up behind them, "I don't mind - do you want to go up to the Falls?"

"It was no jest," Legolas said quietly as the Halflings deliberated. "The darkness rises around us as it has not done this Age, and we know not what lands Mordor may not menace before all is done."

In the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie. A name of uneasy murmuring; the threat from the East, which in recent years none in Rohan had ever quite banished from mind. And a Halfling was to march into it bearing Bilbo's Ring? It was madness, Rowanna thought. Surely, Pippin had misunderstood, and yet... A Company was to be formed, guides and guards. And Boromir, Legolas, Gimli and Glóin, were all lingering in Rivendell into the winter, as though awaiting a call. She said no more; but she did not forget Legolas' words, and she resolved to speak with one of Elrond's bowmasters before the winter was out.

***

One after another, the little groups of Elven scouts sent out after the Council began to reappear, dropping back into the valley in the early dawn or the twilight. The foot-scouts would slip through unheralded, weary as Rowanna had never seen Elves, wringing out sodden cloaks at the great doors and depositing packs with sighs of relief; and then, always, were ushered by Erestor upstairs at once to Master Elrond's chambers to make their report. Rowanna began to learn when a mounted group was coming down the vale, as her charges in the stable would sniff the air and nicker joyfully. One grey dawn the talk among the stable-hands was all of word from the border-guards that a party from the East had been sighted; the Mirkwood scouts were returning. Rowanna finished her share of strawing down and feeding as quickly as she decently could, and set out into the forest.

She knew she did not exactly need to look for him; if she took one of her habitual paths into the trees, and called to him once or twice, he would appear soon enough. Even if he could not possibly have been in earshot, he always seemed to know before long when she or Merry or Pippin were looking for him. Sure enough, as she rounded a great boulder which lay across the path, he emerged as though from the very bark of a great oak ahead.

"A good morning to you, Legolas. Although how any morning can be good in this endless dreary drizzle is beyond me."

"Nor will it change today, I think," he sniffed the air thoughtfully, "no sunshine for your ride this afternoon, I fear. How can I serve you, Rowanna?"

"I was looking for you - but then you knew that, did you not?" He raised an eyebrow at her with a grin, and she went on, "I wanted to tell you - the news all over the stables this morning is that the border-sentries sighted the scouts from the East at dawn. They will be down at the House before noon."

He nodded, the smile vanishing. "I know. I heard it from the trees as the sun was coming up. But my thanks, nonetheless; it was a kindly thought. Elrond's people will know how to find me if they need..."

He is far away again, Rowanna realised, watching Legolas' gaze slide away towards the tracery of bare branches against sky. "There will be messages from your father, surely? To Master Elrond, of course, but to you, also - "

He did not look at her as he answered. "Father never dreamed I would still be here at the year's turning; I sent what account of myself I could with Taurlaegel, but there was much I could not say. All ways from Imladris may now be watched by servants of the Shadow, and any messenger might have fallen prey to them."

Rowanna gasped, and Legolas' attention came around to her at once. "What is it, lady?"

"I - no, I am foolish, it is nothing. I was thinking of Béodred - the companion who brought me here along with Dirgon - he rode south weeks ago with a party bound for the Golden Wood, and then he was to ride on to the Mark to bear news of me. But that was before the leaf-fall, and we heard that he had made it as far as Lórien - he will have reached Edoras, surely?"

"I never yet saw Lothlórien," Legolas admitted, sounding a little rueful, "and I know little of the lands beyond it; but I would say that any of your folk must be doughty enough to reach home through any perils Rohan may now have to offer!" Seeing her relieved smile, he put on a sudden expression of mock alarm. "Besides, do you not face a danger still more pressing, mellonen? Are you not about to miss breakfast? I would not have such a fate befall you on my account!"

"Come then," Rowanna laughed, "walk with me." They fell into step back down through the trees.

"Have your kin no news of your healing, then, until this Béodred of yours bears your tidings home?" Legolas enquired as they went.

"He is not my Béodred," Rowanna said firmly, "even if he might wish to be! And it is to my mother, alone, that he was to bear news. My father died when I was just a child, in service to Éomund, the Chief Marshal of the Mark."

"I am sorry," Legolas said softly. "It is an ill fate for any child, mortal or Elf, to be left fatherless."

"I barely remember him," Rowanna admitted. "He was tall and black-haired and had a laugh like a great bear; I recall him picking me up and swinging me over his head till I squealed. Mother says he put me on a pony when I could barely walk - she was convinced I would break my neck, but I loved it!" She said nothing for a moment, letting her boots scuff through the dead leaves as they walked.

"As to your question.. no, Mother has had no news of me since Béodred and Dirgon set out bearing me from Edoras, months ago; and I had been out of my senses then for some time. She must have wondered if she would ever see me hale again."

"You have never told me what it was ailed you," Legolas observed, turning a curious gaze on her. "But - forgive me," he added as Rowanna looked away biting her lip, "I tread on ground that is yours alone..."

"No, it isn't that - " she shook her head. "It is long since I spoke of it at all - none among Master Elrond's folk have ever asked me; they recoil almost, I think, from any talk of sickness or injury." And recoil from me too, she thought with a momentary flash of bitterness, remembering the distaste on the face of the Elf who had opened a door for her on her first foray down the hallways of Rivendell, as though I embodied all that they preferred not to think of - one of the Sickly Ones indeed! No wonder some of them prefer to look straight through me or to talk over me as though I were not there. And apart from the stable-hands, who have grown used to me, those who do notice me are as over-kindly as if I were a poorly child!

Legolas nodded slowly. "It is half an Age since many of the people of Imladris faced injury, or pain, or death," he said softly; his voice cracked just a little, and Rowanna was suddenly reminded of something Bilbo had said of the Elves of Mirkwood. "It's no Last Homely House, Thranduil's realm, let me tell you; plagued by giant bats, and spiders the size of ponies, and orcs in the North off the slopes of the Grey Mountains, and the Necromancer with his black arts down in the south casting his shadow ever closer to the Elves' borders. Not surprising they are a wary folk, when all's said and done." She took a deep breath.

"It - it was an accident, not sickness. With a horse running wild on the borders of the Eastfold, so Béodred said..."

"Said?" Legolas frowned. "You do not know?"

"I - do not remember." Rowanna stood still; without warning she found herself trembling, blood rushing to her face and her eyes filling with unexpected tears. "I cannot remember, Legolas! Do not ask me, please -"

"It matters not," he broke in gently. "I did not mean to grieve you - speak of it no more..."

They resumed their descent in silence for a while. Suddenly Legolas stopped with a cry of delight and pointed: "There! I have been seeking him for days - I was sure the brethilgaer must still grow somewhere in Imladris!"

She followed his gaze, but saw only a line of beeches whose almost-leafless branches stood lonely against the sky. "The - what?" But he had already leapt forward down the slope to snatch up a handful of leaves from the forest floor; he turned, smiling, holding them out for her inspection. Where all the trees around had shed golden or rust-coloured leaves, these glowed a glorious shade of burnished, coppery red.

"I know not what he is called in the Common Speech, but I wanted to find one to show you - for surely this is your tree!" His grin was triumphant.

"My tree? Why on earth?.. And why do I have a tree?"

"Oh, mellonen, we have each our own tree!" he insisted. "And this is yours - if you ever see one in summer, look at his leaves alongside a lock of your hair, and you will see why; for then they are a shade almost black, but the sunlight shines red through them. If you ever find one in your homeland, you will know; there is your dwelling-place, and there your heart will find rest."

"I shall not forget." Rowanna smiled despite herself; my own tree, indeed. Do Wood-elves ever think about anything else? "I never saw such a one in the Riddermark, though," she warned him. "In truth," - she cast him a sideways glance - "there are great swathes of the Mark where no trees stand at all!" She could not repress a chuckle as his eyebrows shot up.


"None at all?" he demanded, in tones of mock outrage. "Did you not call your land fair?"


"Oh, but it is!" Even in jest, Rowanna found herself leaping to the Riddermark's defence. "You should see the grasslands in the spring; league upon league of endless green rolling clear to the horizon, rippling in great waves under the wind, and the herds galloping across it till the ground thunders. The scent of it - I cannot tell you how new grass smells with the dew of morning on it! And the flowers - heartsease and buttercups that carpet the land in violet and gold as far as you can see..." She broke off; for the familiar surge of homesickness was swelling in her chest till her breath came out in one great sob. "Oh! Legolas, truly, it is a fair land! And - and soon spring will come, and I shall not be there..." She found she had tears in her eyes, and scrubbed angrily at them. When her blurred sight cleared, she found the Elf looking at her curiously.


"I had not known that a Mortal could care so deeply for the green of the earth," he said softly, "when it is not grown or tilled, but wild as the free wind. But, mellonen, this is only one spring, after all - "


"Well enough, for an immortal Elf," Rowanna snapped back, still feeling sorely her long absence from her home. "We mere mortals have not the luxury of knowing we will see the seasons turn for another Age! Besides," - her tone softened as she saw him wince - "I will miss this spring, Legolas, and it will never be quite the same as any other, and it will never come again."


He nodded, slowly. "My people have many yeni to learn how great is our love for Arda, and so we think we care for her more than can any of the Aftercomers. But might a love that knows it must be brief be no less, and yet so much more urgent?.." He smiled suddenly, holding out one of the brethilgaer's copper-red leaves. "Take it, Rowanna, a token. That we may both see many more springs yet in Middle-earth."

***

"I understand, sir," Erestor held his hands out in conciliation, "but Master Elrond's orders are clear; he can take counsel with none other, excepting Mithrandir, until he has seen all the scouts as they come in. And since the last few parties, praise the Powers, are now returning, I do not think he will be able to speak with you tonight. I would not have you waste your time in waiting upon him, my lord."

Suppressing his irritation at the profusion of titles Erestor seemed determined to scatter about him, Legolas sighed. "I thank you for your trouble once again, Erestor - and good night to you," he added hastily as Elrond's steward prepared to embark on lengthy assurances of how little trouble it was. He was turning on his heel when a drawling voice hailed him from the direction of the stairs.

"Legolas!"

A dark head appeared in the doorway, and a moment later Elrohir had offered him a swift clasp of arms and flung himself down in an armchair, careless of the damp already transferring itself from his rain-soaked cloak to the chair's brocade, and the clods of mud which fell from his boots to the rug as he extended his long legs towards the fire. "Yes, Erestor, as you see, we are back; are we the last in? - no, no, don't fuss, just call for plenty of wine, my friend, mulled if the kitchens have any, and three glasses; Elladan is hard upon my heels..." As the steward vanished to do his bidding, the Peredhel stretched luxuriously into the warmth and let out a deep sigh. "I had forgotten how it feels not to be chilled and damp and have melting snow trickling into my boots, I swear! Sit down, Elladan - " as his brother appeared, raindrops gleaming in his black locks, "- I've sent Erestor for wine to warm our frozen bones."

"Good even to you, Legolas," murmured Elladan; unlike his twin, Legolas noticed with inward amusement, he seemed to have taken the time to wipe the worst of the mud from his boots before climbing the stairs.

"And to you, my friends," he responded once he was able to get a word in. "I am glad to see you safe returned to your father's halls."

"Why thank you, son of Thranduil." Elrohir arched an eyebrow. "Now I think of it, though, I am puzzled that you should be here to welcome us back - I thought Father was sending messengers out to Mirkwood as urgently as he sent south and west? Have you taken up permanent residence among us?"

"I wait upon a decision of your father's, Elrohir," Legolas said simply. "I do not expect to have to trespass a great deal longer upon his hospitality."

"Take no notice of my brother's mocking tongue," Elladan put in gently. "He never did know how to be gracious to guests. I trust the idle days of waiting have not weighed too heavily?"

"There is always welcome in Imladris' woods," Legolas smiled. "Besides," his eyes suddenly sparkled, "there are strange sights abroad in your father's domain these days such as I never saw before! I have been learning much of the ways of Halflings, and they are a folk merry enough to cheer any downcast heart, for all their small size."

"And how is my dear little horse-lady?" enquired Elrohir, leaning over to prod the fire into brighter life with the poker. "Still working away on her Grey grammar with old Bilbo? Oh, come, you must have seen her," as Legolas hesitated, "hair nearly as dark as Estel's, almost of a height with me, limps a little like an elderly Ranger who's taken one leg-wound too many. Stubborn as a stallion when you cross her..."

"She does not limp now," Legolas said quietly. "Yes, I know her; we have ridden together - "

"Just don't get into a race with her, is my advice!" Elrohir grinned. "I heard a few distinctly colourful pieces of Rohirric once when she thought I was going to win. Makes you wonder about her misadventure, really - you'd have thought she could quell any cursed steed of Mordor with that glare of hers..."

"That was no matter for jesting, brother, as Arwen and I well remember and you should too!" Elladan cut in quickly across Legolas' curious glance, silencing Elrohir with uncharacteristic sharpness. "Ah - Erestor, thank you, that is a glad sight!" as the steward reappeared accompanied by a serving-elf, whose silver tray bore three goblets and a steaming pitcher emitting a rich, spicy fragrance. "Will you take a glass with us, Legolas?"

"Come, do," his brother urged, "in commiseration - for a quarry gone to ground, a captive lost?" It was Legolas' turn to shoot him a sharp look; Erestor, however, succeeded finally in capturing their attention.

"Your pardon, Elrohir, Elladan; but Master Elrond will, I believe, be at leisure shortly and will call for you -" Indeed, the door to Elrond's inner chamber swung open and another weary, muddied Elf still in cloak and boots emerged, nodding to the twins and casting an envious glance towards the pitcher on the table as he made his exit.

"I thank you my friends," Legolas' tone was mild, "but it seems your father requires your presence, and I'll not delay you." Only after Elrohir had extracted his long limbs from the chair and made for Elrond's chamber did he hold Elladan back for a moment. "Are you at leisure when Master Elrond has heard your report, Elladan? There is a matter on which I would speak more with you..."

Elladan nodded slowly, as if not exactly surprised by the request. "Do you know the small parlour just off the south-east corner of the Hall of Fire, the one which looks out down the valley? Good. I will come there when Father is done with us; for I think you do not wish my brother to join us, and none should overhear us there." He turned on his heel and followed his twin.

He has his father's far sight, that one, Legolas mused as he made his way slowly down the spiral staircase to the lower floors. I think he knows what it is I would have him tell me! Unfortunately, however, yet again he had no answer to the one question he wished to ask Elrond. "Will you send me with the Company?"

Patience, he tried to insist to himself, and all paths will be made clear in time. But as he paced the halls of the House waiting for Elladan, feeling caged by the unaccustomed requirement to keep within doors, he could not keep his father's terse, cautious message, patiently recited by one of the scouts, from his mind:

My dear Legolas,

That you can say little of the matter which keeps you in Imladris, I well understand. I could find it in me to wish that I had not sent you thither; but I felt we owed it to Mithrandir, and I would not have it said that our House would shirk its obligations. Should it indeed be that Master Elrond sees fit to appoint you to the task to which you feel the Powers calling you, we can but hope and trust that you will be brought safe again to the Greenwood in time; since we can only guess at the quest to which you are summoned, and know not how long or how far it may bear you from your home and your kin.

The blessing of our House upon you, my beloved son: Elbereth guide you, guard and protect you, to the end of the world.


***

"...so there you have it, my friend." Elladan set his wineglass down and leaned back in his chair, fingertips steepled together. "Now you know as much as I of her injury, and her healing." The candles around them burned steadily in the quiet night of the Homely House.

Legolas was curled in the window's deep embrasure, where starlight and tree-shadow danced in turn across his face; his eyes had not left Elladan while the Half-elven told his tale, but now he shifted so that his gaze for a long moment turned to the valley and the night.

"If you would hear more," Elladan added softly, "speak with my sister; for the battle with the darkness in Rowanna's mind was Father's, but it was Arwen who waited and watched long with her, and knows her perhaps best. Though she might well refuse you, for Arwen will not break a confidence without great need as a rule."

Legolas swung round at that to face Elrond's son directly. "Then why did you speak with me?"

Elladan's smile was rueful as he accepted the challenge. "Perhaps I have done wrong; but it seemed to me that you mean the lady no ill will, and that more than idle curiosity drove you - unlike those of Father's folk who would rather gaze and murmur at the strangeness of the Sickly Ones, I fear, for all that Imladris has seen its fair share of mortal company down the Ages." His expression sharpened as a thought struck him. "Come to that, friend Greenleaf, why did you wish to know?"

For a moment only silence answered him, and he thought he had caused offence; but the reply came, halting as Legolas thought it out. "I... thought I knew a good deal of the Afterborn, Elladan, before Father's charge brought me to Imladris with the leaf-fall; more at least than many of my folk. Now I speak daily with Men, Halflings - even Stunted Ones! - and I realise that I understand mortals not at all... Their thoughts and feelings are writ large in their faces for all to see, and yet I cannot read them." He reached across the window-alcove to pluck a candle from its sconce, and turned it around in his long fingers, so carefully that it never flickered, as though he sought the answer to his riddle at its glowing heart. "I might understand the lady Rowanna better, I thought, if I knew the misfortune that had brought her here."

Elladan nodded slowly, and reached to take another draught of wine. "Did I guess rightly, that you did not wish to speak of this before my brother?"

"I wanted rather to hear your account than Elrohir's," Legolas admitted. "He seemed disposed to jest about it, and I know it to be no laughing matter; for it distresses Rowanna greatly still - "

"Is that so?" Elladan looked up sharply. "I wonder if Arwen and Father know it?"

"I could not tell you. I broke open the wound unknowing, asking her how it befell, and she could not tell me, for she has no memory of it."

"Whatever she knows of it, it is buried deep, and perhaps for good reason." Elladan grimaced. "How much do you know of the Dúnedain, Legolas?"

Legolas frowned into the circle of gold which lit his face against the darkness. "Little enough; they are not often seen east of the Misty Mountains. But Elladan, you wool-gather - what has this to do with Rowanna of Rohan?"

"More than you know." Elladan shifted forward in his chair, elbows upon his knees, his wineglass forgotten. "Rowanna was born and raised in the Riddermark, yes, but her parents had come there from Gondor, and the blood of the Northern as well as the Southern Dúnedain runs in her veins; the blood, distantly, of Aragorn's kin as well as mine. The Men of the West have battled the Shadow all this Age, no less valiantly for being a scattered and wandering people; and I need not tell you of all people, son of Thranduil, that sometimes the weight of the darkness is hard to bear. There are those of Rowanna's people who feel it more sorely than most, and who sink beneath it at last." He bit his lip, gazing into the hidden corners of the room, and a long moment passed before he met Legolas' troubled eyes again. "I am certain, though he will never speak of it, that that was the fate of Estel's mother, Gilraen."

"Estel?.. Aragorn's mother?"

Elladan sighed. "Not a dozen sun-rounds have passed since she gave up her ghost, without any injury or mortal sickness that even Father could find; she simply - wearied, and wasted away before our eyes, as though she had seen her fate and could no longer choose any other path. Without hope it is hard for mortals to find the strength to shape their lives; and she had no hope left, she said, and could no longer face the growing darkness..."

Legolas' candle-flame flickered violently, sending shadows flying around the parlour's walls. "The darkness. Rowanna was barely touched by the black steed that felled her, you tell me, and yet she felt Mordor's taint keenly enough that it cast her into shadow for many weeks. This is why your father's battle to draw her back to the light was so fierce fought?" He ended on a hoarse whisper, staring at Elladan, who nodded.

"And why it troubled Father, and Arwen, that she never remembered it; for to build such a wall against her own memories, Father said, they must have been black indeed."

There was a sudden flare from a wall-sconce as a wick collapsed into its own pool of melted wax, its light dying, and Elladan shook himself and got to his feet. "We wear the night away, and I have not yet delivered the message I was charged to give you! I ask your pardon..."

"Message?" Legolas set his own candle carefully back in its bracket and rose in his turn. "From whom?"

"From Father." He smiled at the intake of breath which met his words. " I told him as I left him that we were to meet, and he asked that when we were done - late though it might be - you go up to his chamber, for he would keep you waiting no longer. He has a decision for you, my friend."

~~~

Author's Notes:

brethilgaer is my attempt at translating "copper beech" (brethil = beech; gaer = copper-coloured. I can't find any attested translation of JRRT's; nor can I find any specific mention of the copper beech in Middle-earth, but since beeches are plentiful in northern M-e I don't see why copper beeches shouldn't be found there.

Stunted Ones: literal translation of Naugrim.

For notes on Gilraen's fading and death, see notes to Chapter 6.


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