Imrahil settled himself next to the campfire, watching the leaping flames as he chewed the hard, sweet trail bread that was his ration. He did not consider himself a fearful man, quick to see demons and bogeymen in the dark or startle at strange noises. Yet in the shadow of these mountains, and with the memory of other flames sweeping the sickly fields under the walls of the defiled Moon-Tower, fancies were apt to take hold and childhood tales come to mind.
"My lord Prince. May we join you?"
The courteous words, spoken with the slight accent that Imrahil had noticed in his new King and his companions from the North, broke into his bleak thoughts. Looking up, he saw two figures, alike in face and form, in the wavering light. 'Twas the nearer had spoken, a slight smile shaping his lips, but Imrahil did not know which of Elrond's sons had addressed him; while he had encountered them several times in the conclaves of the King, he had as yet exchanged few words them.
With inward amusement, Imrahil realized that it was undoubtedly his Sindarin and that of his kinfolk that was accented, not that of the Northerners, raised with those whose memories stretched back to the Elder days. "Please." He gestured to the folding stools set around the fire that had been unpacked from the baggage train.
Both brothers inclined their heads in acknowledgment as they seated themselves, the gestures alike enough that an unwary man might have suspected he saw double. As it was, Imrahil still felt himself at a disadvantage. One that would be best rectified by plain speaking. He cleared his throat. "Your pardon, my lords. I know your names, but not which is which."
The one who had not spoken before laughed. "Even our own kin mistake us at times." He touched his baldric that ran from shoulder to hip. "Elrohir. I wear the green. My brother sports the blue." He leaned forward and added confidentially, "'Tis how our brother Estel—the Lord Aragorn, I mean—tells one from the other most times, I think."
Elladan tried to hide a smile. "Nay, perhaps not Estel. He has known us too well for too many years. But for many of his Northern kin, I think it true."
Imrahil found himself smiling back. "Then I shall feel no shame in using such devices, my lords, though I would hope for better acquaintance in time. If fortune permits it." He glanced away, to where the mountains loomed unseen in the dark.
When he turned back, he saw Elladan was watching him closely. Meeting the other's gaze, Imrahil shrugged, feeling his cheeks colour from more than the heat of the fire. "Forgive me. I confess that to spend even a little time so near to that accursèd vale has put me in a melancholy mood."
Elladan shook his head. "Nay. There is no need for apology. Though we fear neither Orcs nor the Dead, and the unseen who once ruled that valley have departed, we too are troubled by the Evil that lingers there."
"You have not passed this way before?" Elrohir tore off a chunk of bread from his ration and popped it in his mouth.
Imrahil looked down at his own food, supposing he too should eat, though he had little stomach for it. He shook his head. "My charge was our coasts. The care of Ithilien fell to other captains, my nephew Faramir the latest among them. I have crossed the river scarce a handful of times before, and never ventured so close to the mountains." Taking a small bite of his bread, he chewed it grimly for a moment before forcing himself to swallow. "And you? Ithilien has been lost to us for many lives of men, but perhaps—?" Though they scarcely looked older than his own eldest son, Imrahil knew the brothers had the life of the Firstborn.
"Alas, we did not see the garden of Gondor in the days of its glory—though I trust those days may come again." Elladan shook his head."We have journeyed only so near as Rohan—Calenardhon, as it was then, before your peoples made alliance with Eorl's folk."
A memory came to Imrahil of stifling summer afternoons in dim rooms filled with the bitter scents of dust and ink, and of reading histories that too often recounted battles as dully as if they were merely a farm tally of cartloads of grain and bundled fleeces. He nodded. "There is a line in our records of those days that speaks of you, though it said only that you rode and fought with Eorl." Again, he shrugged apologetically. "I own that it interested me little at the time. Though it was a battle of no little import, the tale was not well told, and I was an impatient boy eager to hurry on to the doings in the South and the tales spun by our minnesingers in Belfalas of blows traded in our long feud with Umbar."
Elrohir grinned. "'Tis not only impatient schoolboys for whom that holds true. What history is as interesting as the story of one's own people, or the house you were born in, or the soil your forefathers tilled and where they shed their blood? I should perhaps not embarrass Estel by recalling that he too was as keen to pass over study of the causes of the Kin-strife and hear tales of Arvedui among the Lossoth as you were to skim the ceding of Rohan to Eorl, though both touch closely on this host encamped here now." Elrohir gestured at the bustle around them.
"Yet I think...." Imrahil hesitated, knowing that the man they spoke of did not yet claim the title of King nor would have it used, yet wishing to pay him the proper reverence. He cleared his throat, "I think in time the... Lord Aragorn learned well those histories, if my memory of 'Captain Thorongil' serves me well. And I am no longer a boy and would fain hear now of past days from those who saw them. If you are willing?"
The brothers exchanged a glance and then Elladan returned his smile. "Surely. 'Tis good to recall past valour as the days darken. And though the field would have been lost without the hardihood of the swift steeds of the Eorlingas and their riders, their speed and strength would have been naught without the stout courage of Cirion and his men. I recall well how they still stood firm, though their cause seemed hopeless, as we fell upon the rear of the enemy, Cirion a lion among them...."
The flames burned brightly as Elladan told his tale, now giving way to his brother, now taking up the account himself again. Imrahil scarce noticed the servants feeding the fire, or others drawn to listen at the margins of the light it cast, nor that he ate in as eagerly as their words the rations that a few minutes before had stuck in his throat. Yet when all was told, he saw that such things had been done, and that the dark no longer weighed so heavily on him.
Rising to take his leave and seek his rest, he bowed to the brothers. "'Tis good indeed to recall past valour as the days darken. I thank you for the tale, my lords—and for the heart's ease."