Snaga of Mordor - Chapter Sixteen - Returns and Farewells

Arwen was unusually jittery, Snaga noticed. She had been living in Rivendell for only a month, but she had quickly seen how much Arwen relaxed when she was home. But now, her sensible, practical cousin had stayed in her room all day, come out of it to have breakfast, and had since been pacing the halls of her house in her best dress. Snaga was extremely confused. "Is Arwen all right?" she finally asked Elrohir.

He smiled very sadly. "Yes and no. Estel is coming back."

Estel. She knew that word. "That means `hope,' doesn't it?"

"Yes," Elrohir told her, "but it is also the name of Father's foster child. A mortal. His father was killed, and his mother brought him here to be raised."

"Oh." Was Arwen in love with him, then? From Elrohir's voice and sad face, it seemed likely. "I think I won't go and ask her to practice with me, then," Snaga said in an attempt at lightheartedness. Elrohir looked too sad; she had to try to cheer him up.

He shook his head to clear it. "Probably a good idea," he agreed. "However, I'm free if you want to practice."

Don't even try to pretend you didn't want him to say that, Snaga told herself. Aloud she said, "All right, then. Let me get my daggers."

Elrohir had told her to start practicing with two daggers instead of just one. Within the month she had been in Rivendell, she had grasped the technique of Elven fighting, so Elrohir was stepping up the expectations. Snaga was finding it increasingly hard to remember all the things she was supposed to know for two daggers, but she was getting better - and her fighting was much more Elvish than it had been before. And that is what I wanted, she reminded herself as she found her belt with the two daggers in their sheaths attached, buckled it on, and made her way to the practice courts.

Elrohir put her through an intense workout. By the time he was finished defeating her for the fourth time, Snaga was soaked with sweat and tired to the bone. The world was spinning in brightly colored spots before her eyes. She sheathed her daggers, but even that little movement put her off-balance, and she threw out a hand and caught Elrohir's shoulder to steady herself. He reached out and took her by the forearms while she blinked to clear her eyes. His hands were very gentle on her arms, but Snaga knew he was strong enough to support her. She let go of his shoulder when her head and eyes were clear.

"Come on," he said softly. "You need some water." He took her hand in his and led her out of the practice room and back into Elrond's house, where he made her sit down while he poured her a glass of water.

Snaga took it gratefully, gulping the cold water down and rolling the still-cool, empty cup across her sweaty forehead. Elrohir took it from her and refilled it. She drank the second cup more decorously, and then stood up slowly. "Thank you," she said, still a little lightheaded.

"My pleasure," Elrohir answered. He took the cup back and filled it for himself. Snaga didn't let him see her small smile as she left the room and went up to her own, where she washed off the sweat and grime and soaked away her weariness in a long bath.

Later that day, about mid-afternoon, Snaga was sitting outside her room, finishing up the dress she had started making in Lothlorien, when she heard footsteps pounding down the hall. She looked up in time to see a blur of blue silk and streaming black hair flying by her. Arwen. Snaga got to her feet and followed her cousin, wondering what could make her be in such a hurry.

Arwen's path led Snaga through the house, down to the door, and outside to the gates of Rivendell. Snaga hid herself behind a house, peering out as the gates opened and Gandalf came through them, followed by a Man. Snaga barely had time to note that his hair was dark and his clothes tattered before Arwen ran at him and threw her arms around him. Snaga could hear both of them laugh, and saw the Man catch Arwen to him and hold her tightly. A lump rose in her throat. The Man was Estel, and this was love.

Snaga looked away from Arwen and Estel, feeling as though she should not be spying on them, and instead focused on Gandalf. The wizard looked considerably relieved to see that Arwen had not suffered any long-lasting injuries from her venture into Mordor, as evidenced by her tackle of Estel, and he caught Snaga's eye and winked at her as he came into Rivendell. After a moment of hesitation, Snaga winked back and smiled broadly.

Then Gandalf coughed loudly. Arwen blushed and pulled away from Estel, but kept her hand firmly entwined in his as he turned to look at Gandalf. "There is a time and a place for joy," Gandalf remarked, "and it is not at your return to Rivendell, Aragorn. And Elrond will not take kindly to the idea of you coming in with us, Lady Arwen." His voice was gentle, but his meaning plainly understood. Arwen released Aragorn's hand, and he held her eyes for one more moment before setting his eyes on Elrond's house. Snaga smiled and slipped away.

All through the rest of the day, and in the evening when Snaga was trying to get to sleep, her mind kept pulling back the image of Arwen racing through Rivendell to see her beloved, and of their reunion and the complete joy they had both clearly felt. Snaga had been mildly jealous of Arwen before, but always it was for things that she knew she too could gain if she put her mind to it: respect, admiration, friendship. But the sheer love that the entrance to Rivendell had been throbbing with at Arwen's reunion with Aragorn was not something that could be worked toward and finally gained. Love was strange, as Snaga ought to know. She had tried many times to make Galadwen look at her with affection, and many times she had been met with indifference, coldness, or anger. Love did not come as a reward for trying hard. Will there ever be anyone that I'd run through an Elven city to see? Snaga wondered, and against her will a solitary tear dropped onto her pillow.

***

Shortly after Gandalf and Aragorn's arrival, Snaga heard some disturbing news from Elrohir. He came in to her lessons one day in a foul mood and with such an air of indifference to the lesson that she finally demanded, "Elrohir, what in the name of all the Valar is going on?"

He fairly glared at her for a moment. Then suddenly all the wrath was gone from his eyes, and they looked unutterably tired and frightened. "Gandalf just told us that the Enemy escaped Dol Guldur," he said quietly.

Snaga sank to the dirt floor of the practice room, her eyes wide and her heart pounding. "He escaped?" she repeated, horrified. "He's out there somewhere that we don't know?" She recalled with painful vividness her last meeting with Sauron. She hung limp in Sauron's grip as he smashed her bones against the walls, tore at her golden hair, used her own dagger to slash up and down her body. He offered her no other chance to save herself. She felt the panic rising in her, and fought it down with an effort. "How did Gandalf find out?" she asked.

"He didn't say," Elrohir replied wearily. "But he asked Father's help to look for him." Snaga knew the rest instinctively, knew it before Elrohir added, "Father asked Elladan and me to lead the troops he will send." With a sigh too heavy for someone so usually jovial, Elrohir joined Snaga on the dirt floor, staring down at his hands. Snaga chanced a look at him out of the corner of her eyes and felt his fear rise, to drown out the weariness in his eyes. He looked over and stared into her own eyes. "I don't know if I could tell anyone else - Valar, I don't even know if I can tell you - but I'm frightened." He gave a self-derisive snort. "Listen to me, I sound like some unblooded youth." The scorn melted out of his voice. His eyes were almost haunted. "I've killed Orcs before, scores of them, but I think of the power that the Enemy is able to muster, and I feel like those Orcs are nothing more than a tryout to see if I would survive long enough for this. I can't even allow myself to think of what he might do to us, or I'd be too scared and I'd try to get out of going." His hand reached out and covered hers where it lay on the floor. Snaga's eyes were wide, but she bit her lip and made her expression less surprised.

"You may not find him at all," she said quietly. "Then you wouldn't even need to worry about him yet."

"And then we would have failed in our mission," Elrohir added. His hand tightened on hers.

Without thinking, Snaga reached out and put her arms around him. She knew that Elrohir needed to be comforted, but he surprised her with the speed with which he returned her embrace. He buried his head in her shoulder, and Snaga found herself close to tears. She tightened her arms and tried to choke back her emotions.

It seemed that they sat there forever, holding each other close and weeping silently. But finally Elrohir loosened his iron grip on her and sat back. His gray eyes were wet with tears, and Snaga knew her own eyes were wet as well.

Elrohir put out a hand and tenderly wiped a tear off her cheek. "Oh, Snaga, I'm sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean to make you cry."

She grabbed his hand and held it against her face. "Don't apologize," she answered in a whisper just as soft as his.

He stood up, pulling her with him. "I should go now and pack." Snaga released his hand, but it lingered for a split second on her tearstained face before he turned and walked out of the practice room.

***

Elrohir, Elladan, and some of the best warriors that Rivendell had to offer rode out the next day with Aragorn and Gandalf. Arwen and Snaga had come with Elrond to see them off. Arwen had not been able to steal much time with Aragorn, but Snaga had caught the many glances they had given each other, and from the sad look on Elrond's face, she knew he had seen them as well.

Elrohir had reined his horse in just after he mounted and turned it toward Snaga. "Thank you, my cousin of the shining hair," he had said, in a low voice for her ears alone.

"Return safely, proud rider," she whispered back, and surprised him by adding the Elvish "Namarie." At his look of pleasant surprise, she added, "I'm not an uncultured barbarian."

"I did not think you were." His eyes were sad and fathoms deep. Snaga almost lost herself in them. "Namarie to you as well." He brushed her hand lightly, an almost feathery touch, and then turned his horse about and rode after his brother.

Snaga stepped back, watching him go. Beside her, Arwen reached for her hand, and Snaga grasped it and put her other arm around her cousin's shoulder. But her eyes did not leave Elrohir, and there was a curious fluttering pain in her heart.

Oh, Valar help me, she thought suddenly. I love him.

Suddenly the pain of his going was ten times worse, and she clung to Arwen's hand as the only stable thing in a world turning on its head. Let him come back safely, she thought. Let him come back so I can tell him.

The hooves of the last rider's horse clattered out of the gates of Rivendell.

I apologize for my anachronism in regards to Arwen and Aragorn. I'd just written their reunion scene when I checked the timeline in ROTK and saw that - ha, ha - he doesn't even meet her until ten years after "The Hobbit!" Please forgive my lack of research, and try to regard it as a plot twist (which I wrote it to be, after all)!

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