Finrod spots Elladan immediately.
"I thought I was doing really well," Elladan moans. He'd managed to handle Fingolfin and Fingon without drawing much suspicion, after all, and in that case he'd been half in shock from his sudden displacement and frantically trying to resurrect once-hated Quenya lessons from the dusty corner of his mind he'd consigned them to.
Really, back when he was a child and sulking about how useless the things he was being forced to learn were, his father should have mentioned the possibility of getting thrown back in time to the First Age. Not only would he certainly have given more attention to the matter of Quenya, but he'd also have made certain to remember certain pesky details which (fool that he was) he'd taken as dry historical fact of no relevance to him. Such as, oh, dates.
Finrod pats his shoulder. "You are! I'm quite impressed, really. I wouldn't be nearly as calm if I'd suddenly found myself on the Great Journey, say. And your story of amnesia was quite convincing! It's just that, unlike my uncle and cousin, I've met Lúthien."
Elladan frowns, puzzled. "And?"
Something sharp flits across Finrod's expression. "And trust me when I say the resemblance is astonishing."
This comes as a genuine surprise. As long as Elladan can remember, he and his brother have looked like Arwen, their father, and the Dúnedain. Arassuil could almost have been their triplet. Elladan had always assumed it was their Mannish blood, thought the claims that Arwen looked like Lúthien come again empty flattery.
But he passed by a village of Men on the way here and saw none of the features he recognised, no fine dark hair or star-bright grey eyes, no arched brows or pointed chin, no long nose with the slightest tilt at the tip. And, of course, the Dúnedain draw their descent from Lúthien as well.
Finrod, apparently waiting to see if he would object to the statement, nods to himself and continues. "Such a close resemblance, you could not be anything other than a relative. And as Lúthien has neither siblings nor children..."
"...you decided my sister's grandson from the future was believable as an explanation?"
Finrod arches a golden eyebrow. "You have met Artanis, yes? Tried to argue with her? I believe the only reason the normal flow of time applies to her is because she hasn't put her mind to the idea that it shouldn't. Of course that trait would be inherited."
There really isn't much Elladan can say to that.
Finrod's gaze is thoughtful as he twists the silver-and-emerald ring on his finger – one of many he wears. Perhaps Elladan is biased (the Elves of the Third Age are, after all, quite justified in having mixed feelings about jewellery) but he really thinks that in all her stories of her brother, his grandmother could have mentioned he was part magpie.
Also, he is almost certain that is the Ring of Barahir, which doesn't make things any less awkward.
"It's concerning," Finrod says. "You've been lucky thus far, but I'm by no means the only person around who's met Lúthien. A bad thing if you want to keep your origins secret, which I for one suggest you do."
"What," Elladan realises as he speaks that he sounds like Mother at her most sarcastic, "you don't think the time traveller story would be widely believed?"
The glint of merriment that has been in Finrod's eyes all this time flickers and dies. "Most wouldn't. Some, however, might – and that, my dear nephew, is a far greater concern. Because some of those people would be desperate to hear what the future holds. Such people are not likely to be safe for you to be around."
"But..." There are two thoughts that have kept Elladan preoccupied ever since he realised this wasn't some absurd fever-dream. One, he utters now. "Should I not grant them such information? The future ahead is so bleak- if I can change it, if something I know can prevent it-"
"Bleak, hmm?" Finrod's voice is mild. "How nice to have my very own confirmation of the Doom of Mandos – not that it needed one, you understand."
His lips tug into a mischievous smirk. He looks like a boy who has stolen fresh hot-cakes from the kitchen. Given his resemblance to Elladan's wise, serious grandmother, the overall effect is rather disconcerting.
"Indeed, I'd be grateful if you'd be willing to drop hints, on occasion. Unlike my sister I do not have the foresight, you see, and I've always quite envied Artanis' ability to make vague and ominous pronouncements that turn out to be entirely accurate in hindsight-"
Elladan rubs his temples. "Could you be serious for one single moment?"
An arm slings around his shoulders, a hand reaches up to muss his hair. "Why, you are definitely Artanis' grandson!" Silver laughter in that voice, sobering as Finrod continues. "Very well, then. I shall be serious, just as you requested. Suppose we follow your theory that you were sent back for a reason. However, the architects of your situation chose you, who will by his own admission not be born for Ages more. Tell me, my dear nephew – if you begin to change things, what happens to you?" A pause. "Is your lineage so safe, so certain, that you think it would happen just so no matter what you change?"
Despair wraps its icy fingers around Elladan's heart. In lieu of answering, he lets his head drop.
It's the opposite, of course. Lúthien and Beren, Idril and Tuor – Elwing's escape from Doriath, Eärendil's from Gondolin, their even meeting, let alone marrying – his father's very existence is a series of highly improbable events, half of them grown from great tragedy.
No. If this is truly his past, Elladan can change nothing without the risk of some sort of horrifying paradox. Whoever or whatever sent him here, they must have known this.
Finrod's other arm comes up to encircle him, pulling him into an embrace. Lips brush his hair, a voice hums a lullaby into his ear. Face pressed against his shoulder, Elladan wonders what it would have been like, to have known him as a child. If in addition to their grandmother they had been able to visit their Uncle Finrod, bright and merry. He would have loved Mother, surely, teased Father into one of his all-too-rare laughs, been willing to play the Balrog with Arwen-
But it is not to be, because even the middling scholar Elladan had always been knows that Finrod Felagund died in the dungeons of Tol-in-Gaurhoth during the First Age.
Or rather, to use the tense that is now accurate: will die.
Eventually, Elladan collects himself, remembers he is no longer a child but instead three millennia old, and removes himself from the hug with some embarrassment. Finrod lets him, although there is something wistful in his gaze. Elladan suspects he was not the only one thinking on might-have-beens.
"So. Continuing to be serious, and I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I make on your behalf. The rest is manageable. Your strange accent in Sindarin, your poor Quenya, your odd manner of dress – have you no jewellery at all? – your unfamiliarity with both politics and geography... we can explain those away."
Elladan bristles. His uncle continues undeterred. "However, unless you wish to take up life as a hermit, we must do something about your likeness to Lúthien. If we do not, the entirety of Beleriand will be awash in rumour within a year."
Elladan thinks Finrod is going to suggest dye, but he is clearly too prosaic about these things. Instead, Finrod says, "There is a trick one can use, to obscure perception. A song. In this case, it would make you look no different... but the features that you share with Lúthien would seem no longer remarkable, not worth remembering or thinking on in any detail. You need some amount of power to pull it off, but I can't imagine it will be a problem."
Elladan protests – he has never had any great skill at such arts – but Finrod is convincing, and before he knows it he is hesitantly intoning the melody of concealment.
He expects it to fail, like similar exercises he has tried before. But Elladan has forgotten that he is no longer in the Age of fading. No, this is the First Age, of legends and heroes and great deeds, of magic. And so, much to his astonishment, he can feel something within him, like lightning spread through his veins. The power rises as he sings, hanging about him like mist, then drawing inwards-
With the last note, it condenses, settles on him like a veil. Elladan rubs at his face, half-surprised all he feels is bare skin. His blood still fizzes, and he is light-headed with something that is half pain, half exhilaration.
Elrohir should have been here. His twin had always been better at the more mystic arts-
Elladan shuts the thought away. He has been doing very well at not thinking about Elrohir.
"Well." Finrod's voice is a little too level. "If there had been any doubt at all that you are descended from Melian, it would be gone now. Now, let's have a look at you."
Elladan raises his head. Finrod's eyes rove over his features, fingers skimming over his cheeks, his nose, his forehead in calm appraisal.
"Did it work?" Elladan demands when he cannot stand it any longer. Finrod's expression is very hard to read, his brows furrowed.
"Oh, it worked. Lúthien no longer comes to mind when I look at you; if I focus very hard, I can see the resemblance, but the thought slips away almost immediately. It is just that... well, it seems that with the immediate parts of your appearance hidden beneath notice, others become far more prominent. And..." Finrod swallows. "My dear nephew, you look like family."
Elladan had... not been expecting that. "Oh?"
"I can see Artanis in you. My brothers, and myself. And..." He frowns. "Fingon, truly? You really must draw your family tree for me, one of these days."
Elladan groans. He'd focused on concealing his resemblance to Lúthien, along with the more Mannish aspects of his appearance. He hadn't thought of what else about him might cause trouble. "Should I repeat the song for those traits as well?"
Finrod waves his hand in dismissal. "No, no. I fear we are already perilously close to trying to hide all your features; it would not do to leave people unable to so much as recognise you. And my family is large enough, sprawled enough, that some new offshoot is far easier to believe than Lúthien having an unknown twin brother."
Elladan cannot stop his wince at the word twin. He knows that Finrod notes the reaction, although he does not say anything.
"Never to mention that this makes it much easier for me to take care of you without raising questions!" Finrod's hand is mussing his hair again. Elladan has the sinking feeling this is something he will have to learn to tolerate. "You will come back to Nargothrond with me, yes? I have amassed quite the collection of books. I am certain that in one of them we will find some way to send you back."
And here is the second thing that has been dragging at Elladan's heart.
How can he get back?
Can he get back?
More and more, he fears that the answer is no.
But Finrod's optimism is infectious, and even though he has known him for merely a few hours Elladan already cannot bear the thought of letting his uncle down. And so he lets himself imagine that Finrod's library will hold the answers he needs, dips his head, and agrees.
The Dagor Bragollach takes place in the four hundred fifty-fifth year of the First Age.
It would really have been nice if Elladan had remembered that little fact beforehand.
Although, as if to make up for it, the year is now branded in his memory.
"A little warning next time, maybe?" Finrod mutters into his ear.
"I'm sorry, all right? I thought we still had a few decades!"
Elladan – perhaps influenced by his father and grandmother, Círdan and King Thranduil, all of whom set foot beyond their borders only rarely – had never imagined much travel between the kingdoms of Beleriand. Finrod, he'd thought, would stay upon his throne in Nargothrond.
In retrospect, a little thought would have made the absurdity obvious. After all, was not Finrod famous for being the first to discover Men? Bëor and his people hardly made camp in Nargothrond's tunnels. No, Elladan's uncle spends a surprising amount of his time travelling. Elladan generally joins him – particularly as a number of relatives wanted a look at this strange cousin of mysterious heritage Finrod had dug up somewhere. They have visited Fingolfin and Fingon in Hithlum, Orodreth in Minas Tirith, Angrod and Aegnor in Dorthonion, and despite Elladan's reluctance Finrod had slowly been talking him into a trip to the north-eastern realms to meet the Sons of Fëanor.
(Caranthir, Fingon had told him on their last visit to Hithlum, had opened a betting pool regarding his heritage. The favourite for his parent was Finrod by a large margin, but there had also been decent money put on Aegnor, Orodreth, Lalwen and Fingon himself. "I don't suppose you'd give me a hint?" Fingon had wheedled. "Maglor has his favourite harp staked on Aredhel, of all people, and I've had my eye on it for centuries-")
Elladan, who felt the bite of wanderlust from an early age, generally enjoys the outings. He has to make an exception for this one, though. He could really have done without being stuck in the Fen of Serech, north of Tol Sirion, choking on the smoke from the burning grasslands to the east, almost cut off from the forces at Minas Tirith by orcs.
A slim figure pops up before Finrod. "We're surrounded," the scout says.
Correction: actually cut off.
Finrod straightens with a smile on his face. It isn't grim. Elladan would really be a lot happier if it were grim. "Well then! I admit I've always liked the idea of a grandiose last stand. Who wants to die heroically with me?"
The expression on the scout's face says it all. His refusal couldn't be clearer if he painted it on the Ered Luin.
They'd agreed early on that Elladan's name needed to go. Elf-Man was a name that drew unwanted attention, in the First Age. That said, Elladan suspects that Finrod calling him Flame of Hair and Eye, when the spell he weaves religiously every morning means most people can barely remember he even has either of those features, is his uncle's idea of a joke.
"Why not." Elladan levers himself out of his crouch with a sigh. "It's not as if I have anything better to do." And, of course, unlike everyone else here he knows that Finrod isn't going to die here, although he certainly can't think how they're going to get out of this...
The whole situation is familiar. He should know this.
But then the Orcs are on them, and it is whirling blows and light steps and black blood accompanied by the fierce joy that always grips Elladan when he can take the fight to his mother's tormentors. (The fact that his mother hasn't actually been born yet is irrelevant.) He is vaguely aware that for every Orc he fells, two more appear from between the trees, that in contrast the ranks of the other defenders beside him are not being replenished as they fall – but in the moment of battle-lust, it doesn't seem all that important.
Somewhere east of here, Fingolfin is riding forth to challenge Morgoth. Elladan's several-times great-grandfather – perhaps some things breed true, after all.
A cry to his left jerks him out of his trance. He spins to see Finrod stumbling back, wide open, and an Orc hefting a crude axe with a leer.
Time slows. Elladan lunges forward, but even as he moves he knows there is no way he will make in time. Finrod's eyes are wide, shocked, and this cannot be how it ends-
A spear knocks the axe out of the Orc's hands, then twists to open its throat. Elladan has to stop abruptly before he guts Finrod's saviour.
The saviour in question is a short, brown-haired Man. More like him are appearing all round them, a ring of spears protecting the Elves.
Finrod still looks a little wide-eyed from his close call. "What-" he starts.
"My lord," the man interrupts him. "We need to get out of here."
That brings Elladan's uncle back to himself. "Of course," Finrod says, and readjusts his grip on his sword.
Afterwards, Elladan isn't sure how they manage to fight their way out. It's a blur of mud and blood with Elladan, furious with himself, trying to keep a short leash on his rage lest he lose himself again. He's used to fighting with Elrohir by his side, the two in unspoken accord, but that's no excuse. Finrod could have died.
Once they have gained distance from Morgoth's forces, Finrod turns to the man who saved him. "You have my thanks," he says, gracious as though they were at the high table in Nargothrond. "May I have your name in return?"
"Barahir son of Bregor, my lord," and Elladan loses the rest of the sentence in his shock.
Really. He had the Lay of Leithian memorized by the time he was twenty, how in the name of Elbereth had he not realised what was taking place?
To be fair, the Orcs, trolls, dragons, Balrogs, and – oh – the fact that half the world seems to be on fire had posed something of a distraction.
Elladan returns his attention to Finrod, who is looking unusually serious.
"I shall not forget what you have done, Barahir of the line of Bëor. You and your house shall have the friendship of the House of Finarfin always. Should you ever need aid, show this and I and mine will remember what we owe you."
Elladan doesn't know what expression is on his face as he watches his great-uncle give his several-times great-grandfather a familiar silver ring. However, when Finrod glances at him something of Elladan's knowledge he is watching history and doom in the making must come across, because Finrod clears his throat and straightens, sword held before him, head tilted in a way that makes the faint winter sunlight catch his golden hair. He looks like a noble, tragic, hero right out of the history books, and Elladan is certain that he is doing it on purpose.
"So I speak, and so it shall be," Finrod intones the words like Lindir at his most melodramatic, "though I see that Doom shall follow."
Finrod, Elladan decides, is not going to die in Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Elladan will strangle him first.
"Well then! A good hunt all round, I'd say."
"Mm," Elladan says noncommittally. He'd like to disagree out of sheer obstinacy, but it would be an obvious lie.
It had been so good to get out of Nargothrond for a while. The kingdom is incredibly beautiful, of course, like to Hadhodrond before its fall, but Elladan is for the wilderness and deals badly with being trapped underground for too long. With Finrod's excursions curtailed after the Dagor Bragollach, he needs to find some other way so that he can regularly feel the sun on his face, hear the whispers of the trees, see the stars...
As it happened, one person in Nargothrond feels similarly. Elladan had originally tried to hold out, but eventually he was desperate enough to agree to go hunting with Celegorm.
The Elf in question is wearing a broad smile, cheeks flushed. He, too, clearly suffers when too long indoors. Elladan never particularly wanted to empathise with a Fëanorion, but it is undeniable that in this way they are alike – and in their similarity they are set apart from almost all the other inhabitants of the cavernous kingdom.
Also undeniable - although it leaves Elladan feeling deeply conflicted - is the fact Celegorm has been a good travelling companion all round, cheerful and easygoing with a wicked sense of humour that made Elladan laugh more than once despite his best efforts. He even took the initial misunderstanding over what a hunt entailed exactly in good spirits.
(Elladan still finds the concept of pursuing game for sport rather than out of necessity bewildering. There are Orcs to be fought!)
"You're good," Celegorm says now, his eyes narrowed in thought. "Very good. I didn't think there was anyone in Nargothrond who could keep up with me in the wilds." The words should by all rights sound boastful. Celegorm, though, speaks them like a simple statement of fact. "Did you train with the Laiquendi in Ossiriand? They move much like you do."
Elladan gives him his best mysterious smile in lieu of answering.
Celegorm had spent a good portion of their trip trying to ferret out his origins. Annoyingly enough for Elladan, who would have been a lot more comfortable had Celegorm stayed the simple villain of childhood tales, he can't even blame the man. Elbereth knows that if he was presented with a purported cousin of secret origin, he'd want to know what was going on.
Also annoying: Elladan is forced to agree with the rest of the sentiment. He does not know what is wrong with the Elves in this Age, but Celegorm is one of the only ones he knows capable of moving through the woods with anything Elladan would deign to describe as "stealth". (Finrod's attempts don't even bear mentioning.)
"It was worth a try," Celegorm says, cheer not diminished. "I'll crack you yet, mystery cousin mine. Curufin's finally lowered himself to take part in the betting pool, you see. Obviously, I must beat him and lord it over him for at least the next century. It's my duty as an elder brother."
Elladan's startled laugh is torn from him despite his best efforts. For a moment, Celegorm the Cruel reminds him of nothing so much as him and Elrohir teasing Arwen when they were young.
As they walk, a large furry shape that trots up beside Celegorm. Huan had lingered near the entrance, clearly unhappy about being asked to leave the fresh air for Nargothrond's caves again. However, he must have realised that Celegorm was intent on his course and come after them all the same. Celegorm scratches his ears absently as he walks. Huan leans into it, tail wagging slightly, although it slows when his eyes turn to Elladan. Celegorm's hound has always been suspicious of him – Elladan suspects Huan can sense that he is not what he purports to be.
As Huan is as large as a pony and capable of devouring small game in a single bite, Elladan hasn't tried to argue about it. Celegorm, at least, doesn't seem to be letting it bother him.
They are in a conversation about the benefits of Nargothrond, Celegorm expounding on the hot bath he is planning to take as soon as possible (Elladan diplomatically refrains from telling the man he desperately needs one) when they reach the Great Hall. They both stop there to take in what is happening.
"What is a Secondborn doing in Nargothrond?"
Celegorm's tone isn't the worst he's heard, but all the same Elladan reflexively bristles at the words.
If seeing the Elves at their height has been astonishing, then the Men of this era have been a surprise in the opposite way. They are so few, their dwellings so primitive, they are so often bound in servitude to Elven lords. Elladan – who grew up among Arnor and its daughters, fair Gondor, proud Harad, and always the long shadow of Númenor in its glory and ruin – finds it completely bewildering. This is a source of puzzlement to many Elves in turn, who consider the current state of the Secondborn their natural due. Peredhel that he is, Elladan is more than willing to be outraged on his cousins' behalf.
("Definitely Finrod's," he remembers the courtiers murmuring after he had taken umbrage at a particularly insulting remark.)
Celegorm is right, though: it's unusual to find Edain in Nargothrond, which is populated solely by Elves. (So many Elves. Elladan thinks there may be more Elves in Nargothrond than there were in all the lands he knew before combined.) This particular one, who looks as though he has spent significantly longer in the wilds than Celegorm and Elladan, seems rather uncomfortable in his splendid surroundings.
Sympathy and solidarity bring Elladan to change his course and approach the man. He looks- not like the Dúnedain (a fact which should no longer surprise Elladan, but does), reminding him more of the inhabitants of Bree, or some of the men in Dale – or, in First Age terms, the Bëorians, with bronzed skin, brown hair, and round brown eyes.
"Greetings," Elladan says, offering his forearm for a warrior's clasp. "I'm-" Elladan Elrondion, cousin- "-Finellach of Nargothrond. What brings you to our kingdom?"
The moment after he utters the words, he spots the silver ring the man bears, and knows.
"I- greetings," says Beren, sounding rather overwhelmed. "I'm- Beren. Son of Barahir. I'm looking for Finrod Felagund, I- he told my father to come if we ever needed aid-"
Somehow, Elladan knows what Beren is going to say just before it leaves his mouth, hand reaching out futilely to bid him to stop but the words are already in the air-
“King Thingol of Doriath wants me to bring him a Silmaril.”
Celegorm is still somewhere behind him. Elladan can feel the man change, like a sleeping lion coming awake.
"What did you say?" Gone is the cheerfulness. Every syllable oozes threat.
Beren, Elladan knows, has grown up waging a desperate, hopeless war against the forces of Morgoth occupying his homeland. Nothing in that has taught him how to handle the peace and beauty of Nargothrond, leaving the Man clearly overwhelmed.
It would be a grave mistake to assume he would be similarly overwhelmed by other things. Threat, for one, is something Beren son of Barahir knows how to deal with very well indeed.
Beren's eyes narrow as his head turns to seek out Celegorm on the upper stair. He bears no visible weapons, but the way a hand disappears up his sleeve makes Elladan suspect that Finrod's steward missed a few things when he disarmed the man.
The promise of violence hangs in the air. Elladan, who is certain he would have remembered the part in the legend where Beren and Celegorm stabbed each other on first meeting, hastily steps between the two with his hands upraised. "Peace! Let us discuss this like reasonable people-"
"Exactly what I was going to say," comes a familiar voice from the far end of the hall. Elladan glances over to see Finrod making his way toward them in long strides, his steward hanging behind his shoulder. Trailing behind them is – oh no – Curufin himself, taking in the tableau with a furrowed brow. "What exactly is going on here?"
Elladan can tell when Finrod recognises Beren as Barahir’s kin from the hitch in his stride.
"I'm Beren son of Barahir, your Majesty." Beren, it seems, accurately guesses that the person wearing enough jewellery to blind the unsuspecting is the King.
"The whelp says he wants a Silmaril," Celegorm throws in from behind Elladan, in a tone that could almost be described as a lazy drawl if not for the distinct impression the speaker is a hair away from murder.
Matters deteriorate from there.
That night finds Elladan pacing the corridor near Finrod's chambers, wondering how things managed to go so wrong so quickly. He knows the legend, of course, but- it was only this morning that he was joking with Celegorm, and now-
Now he has to make a choice.
Back when he and Finrod had first met – when he was still half in shock from his displacement, lost and confused – it had been easy to agree that he needed to keep matters secret, to change nothing. It made sense, after all: what would happen to the world if a man travelled back in time and undid the circumstances that created him? Finrod had termed it an interesting philosophical conundrum, but neither of them had any desire to find out in person.
And – cold as it is to think – the First Age could have come to an even worse end than it did. At least Morgoth was defeated in the end, and enough of the people of Beleriand survived to found new realms in the Second Age. There is no guarantee things will go as well, if he tries meddling. Elladan may be over-proud of his skills at archery and dancing, according to his brother, but he does know his limits and he has no earthly idea how they could go about defeating Morgoth.
So Elladan told himself, and so he has believed... except that he didn't quite let himself think on exactly what it entailed for his newfound uncle. Now Beren is here and the wolves are at the door.
Now, Elladan lets himself think of Finrod.
Finrod, who after a single look at Elladan took him into his heart as family. Elladan's great-uncle, who drives him close to madness with his seeming inability to take anything seriously, who actively encourages Caranthir's betting pool because he thinks it funny, who has taken to demonstrating his objections to Elladan's plainer style by showering him in jewellery whenever merchants come to Nargothrond.
Who has crept into Elladan's own heart so neatly it feels as though there was always a space left empty there, waiting for him.
All the arguments for doing nothing remain. Except that now they require letting Finrod go off to his death, and the thought of losing him makes Elladan's throat close up.
Really, there is no decision to be made at all.
Elladan halts, then turns to stride to the door to Finrod's chambers. He can feel his heart race as he lifts the elaborate serpent-head knocker, lets it fall.
Finrod opens the door, eyes uncharacteristically somber. He quirks an eyebrow when he sees Elladan.
"Uncle," Elladan forces out. He feels as if he is on the edge of a cliff, about to step off. "I... I need to tell you something."
Finrod's eyes are distant as they stare into the flames of the hearth, the flickering shadows making him look almost a stranger. Elladan lets his gaze drift away from his uncle to contemplate the bottles that line one shelf.
It's tempting to do things the Mirkwood way tonight, to borrow a saying common in both Imladris and the Havens that no one in this Age would understand. To Elladan's complete lack of surprise, the wines in Finrod's study boast some very fine vintages – even if Thranduil would no doubt turn up his nose at the lack of Dorwinion – and the events of the past several days strike Elladan as an excellent reason to get very, very drunk.
But the set of Finrod's face makes it clear that alcohol is the furthest thing from his mind at the moment.
And besides, Elladan has not given up yet.
"Won't you at least think about it?"
Elladan pitches his voice low, makes it ring with sincerity. Mother was - is - an excellent diplomat. When Elladan was younger, when the kingdoms of the North still stood, before Hadhodrond's fall-
(when she was still there)
-she used to take him and Elrohir, and later Arwen, with her on some of her journeys. Elladan had never been quite certain if this had been for their education or because a number of her counterparts and trading partners did not bargain their best when there were children staring intently at them, occasionally asking awkward questions. In any case, Elladan had watched, and learned.
"So you owe him a boon. It doesn't have to be this -"
"You sound," Finrod says absently, "like Curufin."
Elladan's mouth snaps shut in indignation.
For the first time since they entered, Finrod raises his head to look at Elladan, a smile spreading across his face. "It wasn't meant as an insult. Curufin isn't a bad sort, really." The smile slips away, as quickly as it came. "Although I will grant that I am quite angry with him right now."
"Be that as it may, am I not allowed to find it funny that the two of you seem set I should follow the same course of action, using the same arguments? Even if I will admit you're proving harder to shake. Judging by the conversations that have been reported to me, he's already turned his attentions to more... malleable minds."
Finrod's voice is light, but Elladan winces. He knows the outcome those whispers will have.
Both of them do.
"I don't understand," Elladan says. The diplomat's skill is gone from his voice, he notes dully. He sounds small, broken, and very young. "You, I've told you what's going to happen, why are you still-"
Finrod lets out a long sigh, then moves to settle himself on one of the heavily embroidered cushions scattered around the low table, legs folded to one side. When he nods at the cushion beside him, Elladan follows suit.
Although far more opulent, the style of decoration in Finrod's private quarters is very like the one his grandmother favoured. Telerin, Finrod had told him when asked. Elladan, child of Middle-earth that he is, only knows that the familiarity has always been comforting.
The silence stretches. Elladan has just about gathered his courage to try persuading Finrod again when his uncle speaks.
"He's your ancestor. Beren."
It's not a question, but if it had been Elladan's guilty wince would have confirmed it anyhow. (When he told Finrod what would happen, the matter of being eaten by wolves had seemed rather more pressing than the nuances of Elladan’s family tree.)
"I thought, afterwards, that there was something of the Secondborn about you on that first day. I thought I'd imagined it, when I could not spot it again. You hid it as well, didn't you?"
Finrod's voice is thoughtful. Elladan cannot meet his eyes, dips his head in a jerky nod.
"For the best, I suppose. That would also have raised questions you'd have had difficulty answering, seeing as no such union exists - much though my brother wished otherwise." His eyes narrow. "Or rather. No such union exists… yet ."
The memory of Beren in the entrance hall is like being doused with cold water.
"Soon, Beren will marry Lúthien." Finrod says it slowly, as though working through some difficult mathematical problem. "Or, from your perspective: after a number of great adventures, Beren married Lúthien. They had a child, who had a child in turn, and on through the generations until we reach you, my dear nephew. And as it so happens, Beren set off on his journey with his friend Finrod Felagund at his side – a rather dashing and handsome fellow, if I do say so myself. Valiant, too, as he saved Beren's life at the cost of his own. That is how it happened, correct?"
Elladan licks dry lips. "I-"
Finrod's gaze is warm, filled with love. That is almost worse than anything else. "Do you really think I would allow you to be undone, Elladan?"
It lances through him. Finrod has taken to calling him Finellach even in private of late. Elladan cannot remember the last time he heard his own name spoken.
Somehow, that is what drives it home: Finrod will not be dissuaded from his course. Elladan can feel defeat creep over him. There is no argument he can make, nothing he can say.
"Take me with you." The plea bursts out of him.
Elladan thought that he had seen Finrod angry before. He knows now those occasions were mere sparks to the conflagration he faces now. Finrod blazes with fury, the shadows thrown by the firelight twisting away from his terrible radiance. This – Elladan's thoughts come slowly in his shock – this must be what it was like when Grandmother brought down Dol Guldur.
If he were truly the Beleriand-born scion of mysterious parentage that he has been pretending to be, perhaps a century or two of age, Finrod's anger would have scattered him like leaves on the wind. But for all that Elladan is comfortable in the role of a youth, he still has thousands of years of the Sun to his name, has seen kingdoms rise and fall. He taps into that age now, taps into the lightning in his blood, and holds strong against the onslaught.
"Why not?" he demands. "I have power, I know what is to come – I could change things. I could save you!"
"No." Finrod's fury is dying down but his refusal is just as immediate, just as emphatic as before. It hangs in the air between them. "This is how it shall be, nephew: you shall stay behind, and you shall survive. You shall keep searching, and one day you shall be reunited with my niece and her husband, with the sister you've spoken of and the brother you haven't. How do you think I could live with myself, if I were to steal that from you?"
"You're asking me to let you leave with no hope at all!"
The weight of what he has done presses down on Elladan. Finrod could have gone forth in blissful ignorance, thinking he could yet succeed, yet survive. But Elladan told him, and now Finrod will know every step of the way that he is walking to his gruesome death... and force himself to continue all the same.
For Elladan's sake.
Finrod laughs. Even accounting for him being Finrod , this is incongruous enough to jerk Elladan out of his guilt.
"But of course I have hope. It's sitting right next to me."
For a moment, Elladan doesn't understand. Then it hits him.
"You can't mean-"
"Tears unnumbered shall ye shed," Finrod quotes, speaking over Elladan in the process. "So we were told, and so far our Doom has proven true. And like so many I wondered – how much of it still lay before us? With us unable to take the fight to Angband, and Morgoth gaining in strength by the year. Was there any hope at all, or were we all doomed to darkness and defeat, all our efforts to come to naught in the end?"
Perhaps, early on, Elladan would have been surprised to hear his light-hearted uncle speak such words. But he has learned that there is more to Finrod than meets the eye.
"Except then, you appeared. A young man from a distant future, hale and healthy. My sister's grandson, when I know Artanis would never bring a child into a world in which Morgoth was still a threat. Lúthien's descendant, and Turgon's as well, so my cousins' lines must continue as well."
Finrod reaches forward to cup Elladan's cheek. His touch is gentle, almost tentative, as though he were holding something unimaginably precious.
"Finellach I called you, but in truth I should have named you Amdir. For you are the hope well-founded, the proof that something of us survives. If I die, I die knowing that in the end, there will yet be light. A greater gift you could not have given me."
Elladan's breaths are ragged, his eyes sting. Dimly, he realises that he is crying.
Finrod brushes the tears away with his thumb, then wraps his hands around Elladan's shoulders, pulls them towards him so that he can press his lips against Elladan's forehead. "Thank you, nephew," he whispers against the skin. "Elladan, my Finellach, my Amdir." Then, so soft Elladan feels the command more than he hears it, "Live."
They stay like that for a long time.
The next day, Elladan watches red-eyed as Finrod leaves Nargothrond with only ten of his people following. The words he speaks are bitter, but his feet are light and sure as he makes his way through the gate, no trace of hesitation or doubt in his steps. He does not look back.
He does not return.
Over the years, Elladan's disguise has grown almost a part of him, the syllables of the concealing song as familiar as his mother's lullabies. With Finrod's help, he has learned to draw on more of the power that has apparently lain hidden within him all along, the lightning twined through his veins that is Melian's heritage. With it to give the spell strength, by now even the ancient and powerful among the Elves will be hard-pressed to penetrate – or notice – the veil he draws around himself.
(And if there are days when exhaustion dogs him, days when the otherworldly power within him burns in his blood as though in protest at being caged in flesh, he counts it a small price.)
Lúthien, of course, blasts through it as if it weren't even there.
"I'd say I've always wanted a time-travelling great-great-grandson, but in all honesty I never expected to have children. So let me say instead that my time-travelling great-great-grandson is a very welcome surprise. I'd brag to Galadriel, except that apparently you're her grandson too and she doesn't need more reason to be smug. Pass me that hairpin, would you?"
It was curiosity, more than anything else, that drove him to the F ë anorian wing not long after Celegorm and Curufin returned from a hunt empty-handed but with triumphant eyes. Lúthien is the ancestor Elladan has heard the most about bar none – no one can blame him for wanting a glimpse.
The glimpse proved that Lúthien indeed looks as much like him as Finrod had stated – she could be Elladan's sister, both actual and hypothetical – that her power was in no way exaggerated over the years, and that she is perfectly willing to involve a passing stranger (or time-travelling great-great-grandson) in her escape without so much as a by-your-leave.
Also, that she knows how to pick locks.
"How do you know how to pick locks?" Elladan asks, because all the other facts are more or less expected but this comes as a genuine surprise.
"Oh, I spent some time in Belegost as a child, when Father was negotiating the building of Menegroth," Lúthien answers breezily, eyes on the keyhole before them as she carefully twists the pin. (Elladan hadn't been planning to get locked into the Fëanorian wing, and counts himself lucky he is apparently in the company of a burglar to put Bilbo Baggins to shame.) "I made some... interesting friends." Her lips tug into a wry smile. "My father did not approve, but luckily for me he only found out after the fact. My mother thought it was-"
The chiming, layered syllables she speaks pass straight through Elladan, folding the idea of funny and not sure what the fuss is about up with Melian's general uncertainty regarding what consisted of useful and acceptable skills for an Incarnate, never to mention a very particularly Ainurin view of solid matter in which the key of its dominant chord is of considerably more relevance than its function as a barrier.
In front of them, the door clicks open.
Carefully, Elladan licks his lips and intones his gratitude, awe of her skills, and slight but present jealousy in the same language.
Lúthien beams, an expression that is felt more than seen, and turns to hug him. She is slight as a willow-reed in his arms, surrounded by an air of ozone and lightning that Elladan, from a young age, had learned to associate with family.
(Which had become rather confusing when the wizards showed up.)
"I must remember to tell Mother she overdid it, when she bound her language in the blood for me. She will be so embarrassed." Lúthien, in contrast, sounds mostly delighted. Of course, she has no siblings; the language of the Ainur is one she will have only been able to speak with her mother. Like the feeling of ozone, this is proof to her that Elladan is truly family.
As if the resemblance weren't proof enough.
"You can ask her about appearances as well, while you're at it." Elladan's voice is dry. Seeing Lúthien has driven it home more than Finrod's words could have: there is something entirely at odds with the usual laws of inheritance when it comes to the way her looks keep turning up over and over again in her line. Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen are bad enough, but the Dúnedain are Secondborn who are six millennia removed from their illustrious forebear. In contrast, Father had said that Valarin had more or less vanished in the Númenoreans by the fifth generation.
Then Elladan remembers something far more urgent he should probably consult a Maia about if he has the chance.
"And ask her about-"
"I can answer that for you," Lúthien interrupts him gently, so very gently, as she steps back. Her clear grey eyes (she looks so much like Arwen) are sad. "You cannot return the way you came. The only road back to your time is the long one."
Elladan had suspected it, when Finrod found nothing in all his searching. Nevertheless, he'd nursed a spark of hope – because he could not bear the thought, because Finrod still thought it could be otherwise and Elladan wanted to believe in his uncle.
But Finrod is gone, and so is his hope. Here is Elladan sitting in fabled Nargothrond, next to his legendary forebear, and she looks so much like his sister, his father, like Elrohir, and-
And he cannot see any of them again for six thousand years, not as himself.
Elladan lets himself think on what he must do to return to them on the long road. Survive the First Age, then the Second, then-
Hide himself away, in the Third. Elladan cannot risk anything else. The likes of Finrod or Lúthien are one thing, but interacting with his own past self? Far, far too much that can go wrong, there.
And it is not as if he can wait for them in Valinor, because-
Ai Elbereth, but he misses his family. His mother, her loss still painful even in long familiarity. His father, his sister, his grandparents. His twin, Elrohir's absence like a lost limb .
He misses Finrod, as well. His uncle had always been able to distract him from such thoughts. So larger than life, Elladan still cannot quite believe he is gone.
"I'm sorry." Lúthien's voice is wretched, the power gone from it. Elladan looks at her and thinks, she is so young.
Young not in the sense of age – indeed, in years she might well be older than he – but in the same sense that he has always been young. The sense of having lived a charmed life insulated from the weight of responsibility, always with an elder kinsman standing in the shadows to pick them up when they fall, loss and grief an abstract idea. Elladan has been growing up since he lost his mother, but Lúthien is still new to it, and she does not know how to deal with his clear sorrow.
Elladan opens his mouth, not knowing what he is about to say, when there is a clicking sound from behind them. He whirls around, heart in his throat. Not only is he somewhere he should not be, but his disguise has been torn away and he is standing right next to the great-great-grandmother he so closely resembles and cannot possibly explain a relation to. Anyone who sees them-
In retrospect, he should have really expected the massive furry shape that fills the corridor.
Elladan is used to suspicion, from Huan. Used to raised hackles, a quivering tail, the whisper of what could become a growl in the air. There is nothing of that, now. Instead, the hound's eyes dart between Lúthien and Elladan, ears standing bolt upright. His shock is so obvious that he doesn't need to use one of his precious moments of speech to express it.
"Huan!" Lúthien strides forward to throw her arms around the dog's neck. Huan is large enough she doesn’t even need to bend down to do so. "There you are, I was wondering where you'd gone." Then, mischievously, "I think you've met my grandson?"
Elladan approaches him more cautiously. "We haven't been properly introduced," he says. "I apologise if my... existence caused you any distress. I should probably have mentioned the time travel." It wasn't as if the dog was going to give away Elladan's secrets.
Huan sniffs him, then licks his face. This probably qualifies as approval.
"We need to go," Lúthien says, one arm still around Huan, as Elladan scrubs at his cheek. "The night is growing no younger, and I need to be well away from here by dawn. Beren needs me."
Now she steps away from the dog, cups his face in both hands.
"I don't believe we'll meet again, grandson mine, and it grieves me sorely I cannot help you return where you came. But all the same, there is one gift I can give you."
Lúthien rises on her toes to kiss his forehead, as Finrod did not so long ago. Power lances through him where her lips touch his skin – like his disguise but a thousand times stronger, going deeper, magic spreading through his veins to mingle with what is already there. Elladan shakes under the onslaught.
Lúthien steps back, looking over him critically as though inspecting her handiwork. Whatever she finds seems to please her, because she smiles.
"There. Now none shall connect you with my line, nor with Secondborn, not unless you wish them to."
The magic has settled, curling around his core, and Elladan can feel in his bones that his days of humming the concealment spell twice a day are over. He reaches out to take Lúthien's hands in his. The long thin fingers are, as so much else about her, familiar.
"Thank you, grandmother," he tells her. "And good luck."
"Do I need it, really?" is her response, lips twisting in a wry smile. "After all – I have the proof that I'll succeed right in front of me."
In that moment, Elladan is reminded of no one so much as Finrod.
In the years after Finrod's death, Elladan lingers in Nargothrond. He tells himself he intends to leave it before its fall, truly. He likes to think he is not actively suicidal, and being anywhere near the place once Glaurung shows up sounds like the recipe for a quick and painful death.
But he cares for its people. For Celebrimbor and Finduilas, both leaving the last of childhood behind, Finduilas growing into her fierce spirit and Celebrimbor his skill and confidence. For Lachivren, who bears shadows in her eyes ever since she renounced her husband – and yet they are still so much lighter than when he knew her in Imladris. For poor Gwindor, lost in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad (and the less said about that mess, the better.) For Orodreth's wife Cellil, quiet and kind yet with a spark of her daughter's fierceness, who never made Finrod's strange find feel anything less than welcome.
Orodreth himself is more difficult. Elladan wants to like him, truly, but there is an undertone of coldness in all their interactions that Elladan does not understand which makes it close to impossible. Instead, Elladan reminds himself that he respects the man, who has treated Lachivren and Celebrimbor with nothing but kindness, who is an excellent father to Finduilas, whose calm pragmatism reminds him, a little, of his own. And – of course – his grandmother loved her nephew, as did Finrod. That on its own is reason for Elladan to care for him, even if they do not get along.
(Later, Elladan realises how hard it must have been for Orodreth, having Elladan around. Orodreth had always desperately wanted to live up to the trust Finrod had bestowed in him with the crown, always felt he was failing. The presence of Elladan, popular, confident and a renowned warrior, still suspected to be Finrod's son by many, must have been like salt in an open wound. But for now Elladan, who had only ever experienced royal courts as an outsider, cannot quite imagine himself as anyone's rival... and so Orodreth’s dislike remains a mystery.)
For all his love for its inhabitants, he still ends up desperate for open skies if he spends too much time in Nargothrond proper – and so Elladan still finds himself frequently ranging outside, on scouting trips and border patrol, Finduilas (who has something of the same affliction) often watching him jealously. One day, he returns to find the place awash in rumour.
"Gwindor has returned!" one of the scouts tells him. "Escaped from Angband itself, to hear it. A Secondborn with him, too. The king has granted both of them refuge." She frowns. "The Man hasn't given his name. Tells us to call him Bloodstained son of Ill-fate, of all things. Suspicious, if you ask me! But I suppose he did save Gwindor's life..."
For all his love of the Lay of Leithian, Elladan never much enjoyed the tale of Túrin, finding it far too grim for his tastes. Arwen, whose literary tastes could verge on the ghoulish, had more liking for it but always most wanted to hear the parts involving Beleg or Nienor and often skipped "that dull bit" in Nargothrond.
Now, Elladan realises with some amount of horror that he has forgotten the details. Túrin shows up in Nargothrond, yes, Glaurung shows up in Nargothrond, also yes, but how did one lead to the other? Finduilas was involved in the tale somehow, he remembers, but in what role, and what happened to her in the end?
If Elladan does not leave now, he is going to find out first-hand.
But how can he possibly abandon them now? Just as when Beren showed up, how can he possibly live with himself if he lets matters take their course?
So he once again throws himself in the fruitless battle against fate. Tries to convince Orodreth to believe Ulmo's messengers, that the bridge is unwise. (Realises too late, far too late, that the more he argues the more he achieves the opposite.) Argues against Túrin, who is an angry young man like so many Elladan has seen before, except that this angry young man will bring Nargothrond to ruin. Argues with Finduilas , who fancies herself in love with Túrin but who Elladan judges in love with his ideas more than anything, a fierce woman new to adulthood who dreams of glory and victory and does not wish to hear her elders' caution. Tries to make someone – anyone – see sense.
Which is how he finds himself in the small group that flees Tumhalad. Elladan is thankful that Celebrimbor is with him, and Túrin is not. It is not as if there is much else to be thankful for, these days.
"We need to get back to Nargothrond!" Celebrimbor pants.
"And what do you expect us to do there?"
It's a little late for that, in Elladan's opinion. Glaurung had left the battle before its end, his vast bulk tiny in the distance. There is no way they will be able to reach in time.
But it's not as if anyone has been listening to Elladan recently. Why start now?
Besides, Celebrimbor's mother is still in Nargothrond, and that is a pain Elladan knows well.
They run into a small group of refugees before they reach Nargothrond. To Celebrimbor's delighted relief, Lachivren is with them. To Elladan's confusion, so are a surprising amount of children.
"One of the nursery groups," Lachivren explains. "Their first caretaker went to create a distraction while the rest of them made a run for it." Her grim face makes it obvious how that went for the first caretaker.
In the meantime, Elladan has been counting faces, seeing who is there and who is not. All things told, he feels secure in saying that the number he is going to end up with is far too small.
"Why are there so few of you?"
Finrod had not counted entirely on secrecy to protect the people of Nargothrond. There had been several escape tunnels built in case of invasion, their entrances well-known and clearly marked, their exits hidden somewhere in the hills. Even with a dragon at the door – even with Glaurung, whose sheer bulk made Smaug look like a lizard with delusions of grandeur – more should have made it out.
"They breached the caverns too soon," another woman explains. Her face is streaked with soot, blood stains her dress, she still clutches a knife in one hand. Her eyes are frighteningly empty. "The evacuation plans always assumed we would have guards holding the chokepoints. We did our best, but-"
But Orodreth had ordered near every man and woman trained in combat to Tumhalad, wanting an overpowering force so that he could crush Morgoth's army before it could reach Nargothrond.
Wonderfully as that had worked out.
"We also encountered Orcs once we left the tunnels," Lachivren adds, calm as though she is giving a lesson in trigonometry. In the current context, it is rather unsettling. "A portion of the troops must have split off, not even engaged the army at Tumhalad and made straight for the hills to catch us from both sides. Morgoth must have guessed we'd have multiple exits. Quite a clever strategy, really." She sounds almost admiring at the last.
"Our lives would certainly be much easier if Morgoth weren't clever," Elladan agrees, but his thoughts are elsewhere. He has finished his tally of those present, and there are far too many absent faces. Two in particular make his heart fall.
"Finduilas and Cellil?" he asks, trying – despite everything – to cling to hope.
It is dashed when the soot-streaked woman shakes her head mutely.
"I did not see Cellil, but Finduilas was- she was taken captive," says one of the other women, voice hoarse. "I was hiding, I saw it – they knew she was Orodreth's kin for her hair-"
Elladan looks at the spear he holds, taken from a corpse on the battlefield after he lost his sword to a troll's heavy hide. Its tip is still smeared with blood.
And Finduilas they pinned to a tree to a spear.
Too late, he remembers how the tale of Túrin in Nargothrond ends.
"I need to go after her."
The words escape him as the face of Finduilas swims before him. They used to talk about exploring the East one day, Elladan spinning tales of Eriador and Rhovanion, of Greenwood as it was before the Shadow, of the great plains of Rohan and the towering Hithaeglir with their peaks wreathed in clouds... of a hidden valley among the foothills where the morning sun turned the mist of the waterfalls into rainbows. He'd tried to pass the stories off as his imagination, but Finduilas must have suspected he was speaking of places he'd seen with his own two eyes. She had never let on.
For all his words about getting away from Nargothrond while they can, how can he allow her to die like that? How can he live with himself, if he does not even try to save her?
"Finellach." The voice is Lachivren's, and in this moment she looks as grim as he's ever seen her in Imladris. "Finellach, look around you."
Finduilas' face vanishes, to be replaced by those surrounding him in reality. Lachivren, the other women, the children, huddling against each other in silence, eyes wide and frightened . Celebrimbor and the others who made it out of Tumhalad with them. Too few. Far too few. And far, far too few of them warriors.
"We need you," Lachivren says, because she has always been one for saying the things nobody wants to. "If we are to have any chance of survival, we need everyone capable of fighting we have."
He lets his head fall, squeezing his eyes shut. She is, of course, completely right.
"All right," he whispers, then again, louder. "All right. Come on, everyone. Let's go."
As the ragged group begins to move, Elladan hopes that one day, when Finduilas returns from Mandos, she will forgive him for these. He doubts he will ever forgive himself.
The way south is brutally hard. It is winter, the nights are freezing, they have too many children and too little of everything else. Elladan, who has spent centuries upon centuries roaming the wilds, takes charge of the group, but even with all his skills at wilderness survival they still lose people, to the cold, to hunger, to grief.
He sometimes overhears murmurs why they do not make for Doriath, instead. These are quickly silenced, the mutterers shooting looks at the Noldor in the group, at Celebrimbor. It is a good enough reason, Elladan thinks, though the truth is one the others cannot imagine, one he cannot share.
If matters take the course he knows, Doriath will not be safe for much longer.
(Even before Nargothrond fell, he toyed with the idea of heading for Doriath, dropping to his knees before Elu Thingol's throne and telling him everything. Of begging him to return the Silmaril to its maker's sons, to avert the doom it carries. But then – what of Elwing, what of Eärendil, what of the empty space in the sky where Gil-Estel should be? Who would bring the Host of the Valar across the Sea to save them all?
And Elladan's attempts at changing things have not met with much success thus far.)
The vast arm of Morgoth's reach does not seem to quite have extended this far south, but they do still encounter stragglers. There are few among the survivors capable of fighting, so each time this happens it is a tense, white-knuckled affair.
After one such skirmish, Celebrimbor is panting, wild-eyed. The scene that just passed is a mirror of what passed at the Fen of Serech, so long, only this time it was Celebrimbor instead of Finrod who was open, vulnerable, and Elladan who saved him.
Elladan is a little wild-eyed himself, but for an entirely different reason.
Elladan saved Celebrimbor. Without him there, the Orc's thrust would surely have pierced his heart.
But how can this be? Elladan is not supposed to be here, has spent the past decades torn between trying to change the past for its horror and trying to preserve it to prevent paradox. Celebrimbor must have survived without him, but events have just given the lie to that.
What if he is supposed to be here. What if the history Elladan was taught as a child has always had him in it. What if he has never had the ability to change anything at all, because by his every action he creates the past that will birth him-
It is while he is reeling with the horror of that thought that the other fighter in their group glances up at him. Thalethril does her best given her lack of training and their short rations, but she had lost hold of her sword during the fight and would no doubt have been the next to die after Celebrimbor. "Thank you, Gil-galad," she says now.
Elladan's first impulse is to look behind him to find who she is talking to. When he sees no one, it slowly begins to sink in.
Slowly, because he cannot grasp the enormity of it quite yet.
"What did you call me?" The words are even, distant, and feel like they belong to a stranger.
Thalethril just blinks at him. It is Celebrimbor who answers.
"Oh, have you not heard them? People have started calling you that. Something about..." Celebrimbor frowns. "Your eyes, I think? Or your spear..."
Elladan is not entirely certain how he manages to handle the aftermath of the battle, get back to camp, shake Celebrimbor and Thalethril off. The next he remembers, he is huddled beneath the great oak tree that is giving them shelter this night. The others are aware of him – there is no such thing as privacy in a refugee encampment – but are giving him space. Perhaps they think he is grieving for Nargothrond.
Well. Elladan is sure he will be grieving for something, in a moment.
Finellach. He'd thought the name vaguely familiar when Finrod gave it to him, but after dredging his memory turned up nothing he'd paid it no more mind. Now it comes to him, a fragment from a book: Gil-galad, known as Finellach in his youth. He had read it the thing as a child, but the name the man had borne before his famous epessë had slipped from his mind. At the time, Elladan been far more interested in his hero's later exploits than his early origins.
Gil-galad had been his childhood idol. He wonders now, half-delirious, if this qualifies as some form of narcissism.
Elrohir had always been more of the scholarly bent. He would have known the meaning of the name at once.
Elladan feels as though he is going to split apart under the revelation, too many ramifications, too many things that suddenly appear in a dreadful new light, with his mind trying to think all of them at once. Now, as if in self-preservation, it latches onto a single one:
Elladan is never going to see his brother again.
Gil-galad died (no, use the correct tense – Elladan will die ) at the end of the Second Age, in battle with Sauron. If he were to be reborn, it would be in Valinor – Glorfindel being a singular exception. And Elrohir-
For the first time since he found himself before Fingolfin, stumbling and confused, Elladan lets himself remember.
There was talk about the Choice as they grew. How could there not be? The Choice of the Peredhel was well-established in both myth and lore. Most Elves along with the more scholarly Men and Dwarves knew of it. Everyone Elladan had been close to did, obviously, but so too many strangers.
And, of course , there was speculation on which way they would choose when the time came. Father tried to shield them from it, to shut it down – such talk was one of the rare things that could stir him to genuine anger – but stopping it was like stopping the Bruinen.
The overall consensus had always been that Arwen and Elrohir were for the Elves, while Elladan could go either way. He'd resented it, but he'd resented its accuracy most of all. An immortal life bound to Arda until its end both drew and repelled him; a mortal's end offered the freedom and adventure that he had always sought, but the thought of leaving behind all he knew after only decades made him quail. He wavered, torn between paths, and sometimes it felt like all the world knew it.
(In Beleriand, of course, nobody sees him as anything other than an Elf. Not even Finrod, until that last night, and even then he did not realise there was still a choice to be made. Sometimes, this feels like the strangest thing of them all.)
As it so happened, Elladan was the only one of his siblings the gossip pegged accurately.
"You're sure," Elladan says numbly.
"I think so." Elrohir leans back on his hands, head tilting upward. He looks relaxed, a faint smile on his face, as though they are speaking of whose turn it is to cook dinner. Above them, Gil-Estel hangs bright in the sky.
"Have you- met someone?" Even as Elladan speaks, he knows the foolishness of the words. If Elrohir's heart had turned towards anyone, Elladan would know.
And indeed, Elrohir is shaking his head. "What, you think some mortal girl turned my head? With all due respect to our sister, I've never been particularly tempted to make my choice for love."
Neither has Elladan, although he can't deny that in many ways, it would have made things easier.
(And, of course, unspoken: if they wanted to tie their fate to another person, they would choose each other.)
"No, it's..." Elrohir lifts a hand, dark against the night sky, then lets it fall again. "It was easy, when we were younger, to think oh, when Father sails I shall go with him. It wasn't- wasn't real, you know? I couldn't actually imagine him leaving. Grandmother, perhaps. Mother," a stab of grief, "yes. But Father? No – and so I never truly had to think about the idea myself."
"I know exactly what you mean." Father had always seemed as much a part of Imladris as the trees, as the waterfalls, as the bedrock. His spirit had blanketed the whole valley.
But as the shadow grew, Father shrank in turn – almost unnoticeably, at first, then faster after Mother- after. Centuries upon centuries of standing strong against the encroaching dark chipped away at him until by the end, Elladan fancied that on a bright day one could almost see through him. It had been no surprise, then, when he sought the Havens.
And so the waterfalls in Imladris cry out for their master, as the wind moans through bare branches in Lórien, and the time for Elladan and Elrohir to decide has grown very short indeed.
"So now I'm thinking about it, and – what is there for me in Valinor? Paradise?" Elrohir gives the word a scornful lilt. "Years uncounted with no one to defend, no Orcs to hunt, no meaning to any of it. Boredom, until the end of the world."
"Well," Elladan says, heart beating in his throat, "Valar forbid you should be bored- "
Elrohir laughs and reaches up. Elladan grasps his hand, helps pull him to his feet.
"Come with me," he says, eyes shining. (Bright as the stars, bright as Eärendil, filled with light – g il-galad. ) "Imagine it – the two of us going to explore beyond the world itself! Arwen can have her Aragorn, we would see the things no Elf has ever seen, venture into the unknown side-by-side-"
It is tempting, Elladan cannot deny it. But- at the same time – Valinor draws him, the swift green land through the gate that is the crying of the gulls, the sea. Boring, Elrohir says, and Elladan cannot deny that either, and yet-
As always, he wavers.
"I. Give me a moment to think about it-"
He likes to think he's smarter than believing the gossips, but he knows Elrohir better than he knows himself and he still wasn't expecting this. With Arwen's choice, he thought he had one sibling going either way, not that if he went to Valinor it would be alone.
"Of course," Elrohir says, although something wary enters his gaze. "Think it over."
He nods to his brother as he leaves their camp, so distracted he would be at risk of stumbling if he weren't Elladan Elrondion. The choices spin through his mind: Valinor and his parents, a mortal death and his siblings.
He still cannot choose... but he must. Something in him tells him: this is it, his reprieve ended. He cannot return to Elrohir without a decision made.
He has had millennia worth to weigh his options, when his father and uncle were forced to choose when they had barely reached their majority. And yet, and yet...
"I need more time," he whispers, hopelessly, foolishly, like a spoiled child.
A shiver in the air, as though the bow-string of the world had been drawn taut.
Around him, the forest-
In his wandering, he'd stumbled his way into a clearing ringed by ancient oaks, their gnarled branches grasping at the sky overhead. They were oaks, he is certain, remembers their old voices whispering of the onset of autumn, of reddening leaves and acorns. But now the trees around him are unmistakeably pines, and the air has the chill of an encroaching winter – a Northern winter, one that might be seen in the Ettenmoors, not just outside Fangorn. The sounds of the forest have changed, too, and the sky-
Elladan sees it, but does not believe it, cannot wrap his mind around what it might mean.
Eärendil has vanished from the night sky.
As he gapes upwards, he hears voices. Reflexively Elladan reaches for his bow – the Age of shadow is over, true, but some habits do not die easy. A moment later, he lets his hand drop, because these voices are unmistakeably Elvish, merry and bright, and speaking...
The voices come nearer, with them the sound of twigs crunching underfoot – the strangers don't have much woodcraft, it seems. Elladan should probably hide, or go to meet them, but instead he wracks his brain trying to remember declinations.
Really. No one actually speaks Quenya, these days. Who are these people?
They are two men, dark-haired and grey-eyed and clad in the most ornate armour Elladan has ever seen. It gleams silver in the too-dim starlight (making you visible to all the Orcs for leagues, surely) and is embossed with a spiral symbol that seems faintly familiar. Nor does the ornamentation end there. Rings crawl up the one's ear, and the other's dark hair has been braided with gold.
They stop and look at him. Gold-braids' hand goes to the hilt of his sword.
Elladan holds up his hands. "Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo." That phrase is easy enough, at least. "I apologise. I'm... lost." At least, he thinks that's what the word means. "Can you tell me where I am?"
The two Elves trade a glance. "You are in Hísilomë, stranger," Earrings finally says. "In the land of myself, High King Nolofinwë."
What, Elladan thinks.
"What," he says.
"We can use Sindarin," Gold-braids says in Sindarin, having apparently decided that lack of language skills are to blame for Elladan's clear and absolute confusion. It would help more if it weren't the most archaic Sindarin Elladan has ever heard in his life. He sounds as though he walked straight of a ballad of Beleriand. "You are in Hithlum, ruled by the High King of the Noldor, Fingolfin Finwion." He nods at Earrings. "I am his son Fingon."
It's really not any more believable in any language.
The world is spinning. Elladan sits down with a thump. Distantly, he hears the two speak over his head. They've switched to Quenya, again, and Elladan cannot spare the concentration to try to understand them. He's too busy reaching out with his mind.
He's never been any good at the mystical arts, despite Grandmother's best efforts. Still, he is a twin, and some things are in the blood. He's always been able to speak mind-to-mind with Elrohir when they are close.
Elrohir, he tries now, sending his call into the dark forest. Something's wrong, the forest is wrong, I have two Elves with me claiming they're Fingolfin and Fingon of all things-
His brother is gone.
The refugees of Nargothrond reach the mouth of Sirion in the first days of spring.
To Elladan's surprise, there is already a settlement there. He has always thought the Havens of Sirion to have been created by the refugees of Doriath and Gondolin, but both of those kingdoms still stand and yet there are wooden houses occupying tiny islands or perched atop stilts in the waters, boardwalks woven between them like a spiderweb, small boats with colourful sails tied to a long dock. It reminds him of Esgaroth, a little – and indeed, the figures that come running to greet them prove that this is not purely an Elven town.
Something within Elladan relaxes when he sees the small group of Secondborn approach. Túrin is the only Man he has seen in recent years, and he hadn't realised how much it had torn at him to be separated from the Edain.
There are, of course, Elves as well. Falathrim for the most part, refugees of Brithombar and Eglarest who opted to settle on the coast instead of on Balar. A few Mithrim, who immediately converge on Lachivren and Celebrimbor. The whispers Elladan overhears makes it clear family trees are being compared to discover their exact degree of kinship, mutual cousins being discussed along the way.
(If anyone had ever told him that hobbits and Mithrim had quite a few traits in common, he would have taken it as a grand joke.)
Quickly, Elladan realises that it is not only the inhabitants of the Havens who have come to greet them. Some of the people of Balar were visiting when the travellers were spotted – including their lord.
"Nargothrond fallen? It is ill news you bring indeed. I had feared for the worst when Gelmir and Arminas returned, telling me their message had not been heeded, but I had hoped... well. It was not to be."
Círdan's voice is heavy with grief. This is appropriate because they are talking of serious things, Elladan thinks. Serious things like the dragon, like devastation and ruin. Somehow, though, the only thing Elladan himself can focus on is that Círdan has no beard and this is simply wrong.
It is possible hunger has made him light-headed.
Perhaps Círdan too realises that Elladan is in no state for the topic, because after a moment he says, "We can continue this discussion once you have eaten and rested. Hireth," he nods at the tall Secondborn woman who Elladan has gathered is the unofficial leader of the settlement, "has said her people will be glad to take you in, and all of you are welcome on Balar itself. You are the leader, yes? Forgive me, I did not catch your name."
Elladan almost says Elladan, which speaks to how tired he is. He catches himself just in time.
"Finellach, of..." He pauses. Of Nargothrond is now terribly inaccurate. "Of nowhere in particular just now."
"Hmm." Círdan's eyes narrow. "Finellach Orodrethion, perhaps? You have the look of him and his kin."
"Maybe. Maybe not." Elladan smiles at Círdan. The expression feels strange and unfamiliar on his face, which should probably worry him. "I like to cultivate an air of mystery about my heritage. It makes life exciting, don't you think? And I hear Caranthir still has that betting pool open. I'd hate to spoil his fun."
Círdan hmm s again, gaze sharpening. Beardless or no, he is suddenly every inch the ancient lord of the Grey Havens who awoke at Cuiviénen at the dawn of time. Even in his exhaustion, Elladan finds himself briefly very glad for Lúthien's gift to him. He very much doubts his spell could have stood up to this scrutiny.
Thankfully, in the next moment they are interrupted by Aengannel, one of their many orphaned children. Over the course of the journey, she latched onto Celebrimbor, who had been rather bewildered by the attention but done his best all the same. Now, she tugs at Elladan's sleeve.
"Gil-galad? They want me'n Hithui 'n Glimir to go with them," she whispers. In recognisable sentences, even, when at the start she refused to speak a word. Celebrimbor's best has been quite good indeed. "Is it all right?"
Elladan looks up to meet the eyes of one of the small group of Mithrim, who appear to have taken charge of not just their kin but also several of the children. The man nods back to him, one arm around Lachivren's shoulders, the other holding little Glimir's hand. All around him, similar scenes are occurring, the refugees of Nargothrond completing their dreadful flight to find kindness at its end.
"It's all right, Aengannel," Elladan tells her, reaching down to smooth her hair. "Go on."
"Gil-galad? Not Finellach?"
There is something strange in Círdan's voice. Elladan cannot work out what it is and, frankly, cannot be bothered to care right now. "They started calling me that on the journey south. I honestly don't know why."
"Well, far be it from me to deny an after-name gained in such circumstances." A hand clasps his forearm, warm and strong. "Come with me, then, my lord Gil-galad. Let's get you some food."