“What kind of fool attempts to invade Imladris in the winter?” Asked Lord-the-Captain Elboron, the red-gold haired son of Prince Faramir and Lady Eowyn, as he doffed his armored helm before the gathered commanders in the tent of his future king.
“The kind of fools who can use magic fire to melt the snows choking the passes, or at least so say our spies and informants,” replied Crown Prince Eldarion, who was Elboron’s uncle and childhood playmate. King Elessar’s son by Arwen his Queen was only three years older than Aragorn’s oldest grandson, and the two had grown up together.
Elboron would become Eldarion’s Steward of Gondor upon Faramir’s retirement, and he and Aragorn were both in Gondor. And so it was the future rulers of Ithilien and the Reunited Kingdoms, Elboron and Eldarion, rather than their more famous fathers, who were gathering the forces of northern Arnor to respond to this act of war by the exiled mages of Rhun.
Elboron snorted skeptically and then countered, “If the Blue Wizard Alatar’s rogue pupils could summon enough fire to melt the passes, then why have they not marched on Minas Tirith or Annuminas directly? Nay, my prince and heart-brother, they must instead have a source of information within Imladris or one of the surrounding towns. Someone who told them how bare Theli and Mithiriel stripped the complement of guards at Imladris in order to send support to Prince Dirhael when Eryn Vorn was flooded this past autumn.”
“And this is why you wish to go ahead with the scouts, and see for yourself in what state are our passes?” Eldarion asked his nephew with fond skepticism.
Elboron was too earnest in his aims to blush or take offense at that. Instead he asserted calmly, “I think that I am the best suited, if your Highness can spare me here.”
That fair and respectful, if overly formal, answer made Eldarion almost regret his gentle teasing. It was, as his father had oft-times told him, hard to tease a man who was so very earnest that he answered each charge honestly. Elboron was much like his father, and every bit as stalwart and capable as Faramir. Eldarion thanked Eru for him, and reluctantly gave him leave.
“Go, then, my brother. Between myself and our good Lord Harnestel, we can handle the muster here.”
Little though Eldarion liked sending Elboron into danger without him, Eldarion held the overall command and ought not go himself. And even though Elboron was not Lord Elrond’s grandson, he was a scout whose magically-gifted sister now ruled in Imladris.
“But go carefully,” Eldarion warned, “And take Lieutenant Drystan with you.”
Drystan had served as Glorfindel’s second in Imladris for the last half of the Third Age, He knew every secret of the paths that Elboron and his scouting party must search. Eldarion hoped that Drystan had taken to heart Eldarion’s assurances that he should not blame himself for the current state of affairs. Lord-the-Captain Glorfindel was in Imladris, and Glorfindel had been the one to agree that the garrison at Imladris could be drawn down to bare bones in the hour of Eryn Vorn’s need. No one had seen reason to predict that the former pupils of the Blue Wizard would seize upon this opportunity to invade Imladris in force, with Khandian mercenaries at their back.
Not long after Elboron and Drystan had left for their scouting endeavor, Eldarion and his captains were disturbed in their planning by a messenger announcing the approach of a friendly company.
“They are carrying the colors of the Dale-King, and of the elven King Thranduil, of the Wood of the Green Leaves,” Eldarion’s senior squire reported.
“Are they, now?” Eldarion replied, baffled although not displeased. The greatest part of their force had been gathered from the re-built Annuminas, with a decently sized contingent from his sister Gilwen’s husband Dirhael’s princedom of Eryn Vorn.
Eldarion had experienced mixed feelings upon discovering that Gilwen herself was still fighting pirates in the south. His youngest sister was a fierce and canny warrior, and he would like to fight beside her again. At the same time, he never liked to see his family and friends in danger, and he did worry for his sister. Eldarion was just as glad that his two sons, the twins Elros and Kader, were in Gondor serving as squires to Captain-General Galdoron and Prince Erchirion, respectively.
Still, Eldarion would not have been surprised to have seen any of Gilwen, Elros, Kader, Galdoron, Erchirion, or his father Aragorn or half-brother Faramir. Imladris besieged was a desperately worrying situation, for there dwelled not only the wisdom of ages and his mother Arwen’s childhood memories, but also Eldarion’s middle niece Mithiriel and her husband Ecthelion (called Theli), all of their four children, and numerous other kinfolk and friends.
However, Eldarion was surprised to see a contingent from Dale and the Green Kingdom. It was of course true that both lands were long-time allies of Gondor, with their alliance to the Greenwood recently enforced both by Thranduil’s heir’s long-standing friendship with Aragorn and his heirs, and by Mithiriel’s marriage to Ecthelion, who was himself a cousin of Thranduil’s and a royal lord of the great Green Wood. But the Dale-men and the elves of the Greenwood were very far from home, and Eldarion was not sure what might have brought them.
“Give them billet and kind welcome with my thanks, and invite their leaders to join us,” Eldarion bid his squire.
To Eldarion’s further surprise, those who came to meet them included not only a captain of Dale’s long-bow men and one of Thranduil’s officers, but also Eldarion’s own young nephew, and Elboron’s only brother, the royal Lord Ecthelion of Ithilien.
“Ecthelion the youngest,” as he was sometimes called, or “Elion,” within the family, was nearly twenty years younger than Elboron. He was only a few years older than Eldarion’s sons Elros and Kader, he and was their dearest friend. The three had shared nurses, lessons, adventures, and nearly everything else until Elion made the decision to dedicate himself fully to the study of the healing arts, and not to partake of the warrior’s training which was his due and duty as a prince’s son.
Now that nephew knelt before him, his auburn hair flecked with snow.
“His Highness the Lord Ecthelion was determined to pay his sister of Imladris a visit, despite the season and weather,” explained Thranduil’s officer, Captain Baeraeriel, who was a cousin of Legolas and fully conversant with Ecthelion’s proper Gondorian titles. “My King did not wish him to travel unaccompanied, and the Dale-King lent him escort as well.”
Eldarion embraced his nephew Elion, then exchanged a warrior’s arm-clasp with Captain Baeraeriel, whom he’d known as one of the officers of Legolas’ household at Ithilien-en-Edhil when he had been a child. He exchanged greetings with the Dale-King’s captain, who was also one of that worthy’s many nephews.
The allied officers stayed to join Eldarion’s council of war. As did Elion, but only after Eldarion insisted that he do so. Elion would have preferred to have been off meeting the healers in Eldarion’s camp and inspecting their equipment and plans. But Eldarion was right to insist that Elion stay, as the lad did remember several additional rarely used entrances to Imladris, from Elion’s own studies there and from his many and frequent visits to the sister who had always made time for him.
Eldarion bade his nephew stay again, when he dismissed the rest of the officers.
“Well now, Scape-grace, had a dream, did we?” Eldarion inquired sympathetically of his half-brother’s youngest child, who had as often as not been a resident of his household rather than Faramir’s.
“Aye, Uncle ‘Dari,” Elion responded familiarly, accepting another embrace and the Crown Prince-his-uncle’s assistance at removing his wet boots.
The young lord further elaborated in a troubled tone, “I dreamt of blue blood-stained hawks creeping through the rocks towards the Last Homely House, and my young niece crying in fright.”
“Illinare does not cry easily,” murmured Eldarion, much troubled himself.
“No. She is like Aunt Theodwyn and Aunt Gilwen, in that. Stubborn-strong, only Illinare is harder with it.”
“Indeed. It is odd that she is Mithiriel’s daughter, and not Thea's or Gilly’s.”
“Not so odd.” Elion disagreed fearlessly, which made Eldarion almost smile, “Mithiriel can be straight hard herself when she is forced to it.”
Elion continued worriedly, “As the Rhunnic exile Blood Mages shall learn to their sorrow, if they force her to it.”
“I know, Elion,” Eldarion soothed, stroking a comforting hand down the youth’s brown hair, pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck.
Eldarion was concerned as well. Mithiriel was, under normal circumstances, the most peaceable of Faramir’s children, and of Aragorn’s grandchildren. She was the only one who had less military training than even young Elion.
But Mithiriel was also her grandmother the Princess Finduilas’ granddaughter in a way in which none of the others were. If Mithiriel truly wanted to stop an armed man in his tracks, all she had to do was wish that he might trip, and trip he would. If she needed him dead, and wanted him dead, then a man’s heart might stop.
It was a great and terrible gift for a gentle, scholarly woman, and it bore a great and terrible cost. All magic had a price. The blue wizard Alatar, twisted by desperation, had taught his pupils at the end of the War of the Last Alliance how the power to protect their families might be bought, with the deaths of animals and the willing sacrifice of pain. His students had betrayed him, and then spilled Alatar’s own blood and drank deeply of it to obtain their immortality.
Most of those who followed Alatar’s original students were much younger mages, and only three or four of Alatar’s original dozen students survived. But it was enough. And Mithiriel’s magic cost her more dear than theirs. They raised copious amounts of power from unwilling blood sacrifices, while Mithiriel spilled no blood, other than perhaps her own. A great working or even a small one might exhaust her, possibly some day unto death, which is what those who loved her feared.
Eldarion could count on two hands the number of times which Mithiriel had knowingly used the full extent of her power outside of the Reunited Kingdom’s brief war with the Blood Mages. He could not imagine what it would cost, if Mithiriel had to use those powers again now, and in earnest.
“All will be well, Elion,” Eldarion comforted his nephew. “We outnumber the mages, and have fought them before. Imladris’ defenders may be few, but they are quite doughty and innovative.
Elion managed a small, wry half-smile, which made him for a moment greatly resemble his father Faramir.
“It is folly indeed to attack Imaldris in the winter,” Elion said with that same smile, “but even more so, to attack a settlement of scholars!”
Eldarion laughed, “Aye, you healers and scholars can make terrifyingly unpredictable opponents.”
Growing serious again, the future King commented, “I do wish that you had arrived but a half hour earlier, Elion-nin. I’m not sure if there were any details in your dreams which might have helped your brother and our scouts, but I would have liked for Elboron to have had a chance to talk to you before they departed.”
“I could catch them up, Uncle, if you will?” Elion offered.
“Absolutely not, Nurseling.” Eldarion immediately denied him, remembering too well the chubby toddler who had played with his own children, and Elion’s lack of anything properly resembling battle training. “In fact, I want your word here and now, Ecthelion Faramirchil, scion of the house of Telcontar, that you will do naught else but serve me as healer.”
Elion’s face settled into the stubborn lines that had characterized the otherwise sunny youth since his babyhood, “But I’ve as much training as your pike-men, Uncle!” the twenty-three year old royal lord protested.
“Nay, you have not,” Eldarion disagreed, “You have the basic arms-training given to all of Aragorn’s heirs, but that is hardly more than enough to keep you alive until your bodyguards can reach you. You are not a warrior. You are a healer, and you managed to achieve that level of learning and experience at the tender age of twenty-two because you have not divided your attentions by also training as a warrior. You made a choice, one that I respect, but it precludes you from serving me in this campaign as anything other than healer.”
“As you say, Sir,” agreed the disgruntled Elion.
Eldairon, foreseeing that this was going to be a source of worry for him, made a mental note to speak to Elion’s unfortunate bodyguard, and warned his nephew that he was going to do so. Eldarion also ordered Elion to sleep in Eldarion’s own tent, for Eldarion’s own peace of mind.
Elion managed to abide by his promise to stay out of the fighting only until the first major skirmish, which was about what Eldarion had expected, really. That did not much improve his temperament, nor did being too busy with the aftermath of the battle to properly take Elion to task for it himself.
Taking a firm grasp on his nephew’s upper arm, Eldarion handed him off to Elion’s bodyguard, Borlas son of Beregrond, with the stern injunction, “Please take his highness to wash dishes and dig privy ditches until he properly understands the severity of his errors. And then make sure that he eats and rests.”
“With pleasure, Sir,” promised Borlas, pulling away the unhappy Elion. Although Eldarion did note that Borlas softened enough to put an arm around his young lord’s shoulder. Then he whispered something into Elion’s ear that made him stand up more proudly.
Eldarion didn’t have the opportunity to actually talk to Elion for another day and a half, by which time Elboron and his company had rejoined them. Eldarion’s lecture was quite impressive, and with Elion’s own older brother frowning solemnly at his side, he had hoped that the youth would take it to heart.
A hope which proved to be in vain. Two days later, Elion allowed himself to be captured by their enemies so that he could continue ministering to a wounded soldier. Eldarion, Elboron, and their officers spent a sleepless night waiting for a ransom demand which never came. No, only Elion, with his father's luck and faith in humanity, managed to find the enemy mages' informant, and turn her back to Gondor's side.
Said informant was actually Theodwyn's only daughter, Eldarion's oldest niece, Sarangerel. Theodwyn and her husband Tarkhan had never known what to do with their first child. She was a daughter, and Theodwyn had badly needed a son to still the rumors that the great Cheiftain's heir had erred in marrying a woman of Gondor.
Even after Sarangerel's brother was born a year later, Theodwyn and Tarkhan had been so busy putting out fires after Rhun's civil war that they had spent little time with their small daughter. Instead, she had been raised by her nurse and the Chieftain's staff and servants, many of whom had been allies of the secret Blood Mages of Rhun. When Tarkhan and Theodwyn had banished not only the Blood Mages but also those who supported them without knowing what they really were after the Mage War, including amongst those dispossessed exiles Sarangerel’s beloved nurse, Sarangerel had angrily left her parents to follow her nurse.
The leader of the Bood Mages of Rhun, Chief Altan, had whispered in Sarangerel's ear of how the entire conflict was just a misunderstanding, and that if the Mages could only talk to the neutral leaders in Imladris, the whole thing could be resolved. Sarangerel, just seventeen years old and furiously hurt by the breach between her parents and her nurse, had believed him.
But the Mages' own actions and Elion's calm words persuaded Sarangerel that she had been in the wrong. She risked her life getting Elion to safety within Imladris, and she also brought the brave defenders within Imladris all the information they needed to sneak through the Blood Magee army’s lines and hamstring their offensive.
By the time that Eldarion and Elboron's armies finally reached Imladris, they found themselves with little to do but mop up demoralized lesser mages, warriors, and mercenaries. Unfortunately, Chief Altan himself and a number of his followers had escaped, still apparently unaware that Sarangerel had betrayed them.
Sarangerel herself remained in Imladris, ostensibly Mithiriel and Theli's hostage but also their honored guest, their betrayer and savior both.
It was an interesting lesson for Eldarion and Elboron, that it was not only a besieged city which could fall from within, but the besiegers as well.
None of that, the two cheerfully decided, was going to save Elion's ears when Aragorn and Faramir arrived. It was vaguely possible that Elion, the baby of the family, would be able convince his calm father Faramir to go easy on him. But there was no way that even Elion would be able to talk Daerada Aragorn around.
Elion had sustained a long cut to his chest while trying to persuade the Mages to let him see to the wounds of Eldarion's injured soldier. It was a narrow wound, meant to intimidate rather than to cause lasting harm, but it was still going to infuriate Daerada.
Elion's brilliant plan was to charm his uncle Eldarion and older brother Elboron into downplaying his role in the whole affair. And to simply not take his shirt off after the King arrived and before he departed.
"No deal, Imp," denied Elboron fondly, "and besides, what are you going to say when Daerada Aragorn invites us all to go swimming with him?
"That I have something else to do?" theorized Elion hopefully.
Elboron and Eldarion exchanged a glance of mingled amusement and incredulity.
"Because that won't arouse Ada's suspicions at all," jested Eldarion.
"Particularly not if it happens more than once," agreed Elboron, "Just face it, Imp. You're in deep trouble with Daerada Aragorn."
Elion groaned and hid his face in his hands.
"Maybe hide behind Mithiriel's skirts, if your pride can take it," Eldarion suggested heartlessly, "But even that is unlikely to spare you the lecture of your young life. And you’ll be writing essays on what you did wrong, oh so many essays!"
“Ada and Daerada will probably make you start training as a warrior more during your free time,” Elboron added, “But that will actually be good for you. As well as for our collective peace of mind.”
"You two are no help at all," Elion accused them.
Uncle and older-brother exchanged another glance.
"Next time, listen to us," Elboron advised calmly, and that was the last help either he or Eldarion gave Elion in the wake of what came to be called the Third Siege of Imladris.
When Faramir arrived, he did, as Eldarion and Elboron had expected, embrace his youngest child fiercely, before imposing stiff consequences for Elion’s foolishness. But he also shared his unique perspective on the recent siege, one which Eldarion had not before considered.
“At least this was the third time that someone has tried to invade Imladris,” Faramir said with philosophic optimism, “The third time that someone tries to invade a place and their invasion fails, that tells the rest of Middle Earth that invading that city is a doomed – even cursed - endeavor.”
The weary Mithiriel had leaned towards her father, and asked bemusedly, “So, invading our city is jinxed?”
“Indeed,” agreed Faramir with a fond smile for his middle daughter, “An invasion such as this might as well have happened at some point, and this time Elion and Sarangerel were here to help. And this third invasion may well spare Imladris trouble later down the road.”
“That’s an interesting perspective, Faramir-my-heart,” Glorfindel had commented mildly, “Perhaps you would like to elaborate further, while we practice broad sword drills with your right arm tied behind your back.”
Eldarion had hidden a laugh at that, because his half-brother Faramir’s left side was his weaker side when it came to anything physical, as all present well knew.
“Not until you’re fully well,” said Theli, Mithiriel’s husband and the Lord Consort of Imladris, to the great Glorfindel.
At the same time young Elion protested, “Not until you’re fully back on your feet and cleared by your healers, Uncle Glorfindel.”
Glorfindel considered them both with displeasure for a moment, then broke into his merry golden laugh as he complained, “I have spent the last two Ages surrounded by annoyingly diligent and fierce healers! First Elrond and my daughter-by-law Elain, and now the two of you, and even Theli’s young twins Nestor and Elrond!”
Elion and Theli seemed to take that as nothing less than a complement. And Eldarion was grateful for Faramir’s hopeful theories, and the light familial bantering. It was exactly what the future king of Gondor and Arnor had needed to clear his mind and soothe his heart in the wake of his first command of all of a Kingdom’s armies in a crisis situation.