Even without spoken words, they sensed that at last their days of joy were drawing to a close. As the generation of Men grew stronger, the last remnants of the Elves of old were waning, falling deeper into the gloaming and the shadow. Like the Elves that had once lived in it, Imladris itself was waning into a memory. The leaves always fell and never grew back, old trees fell and new trees did not come to replace them.
As Elladan, eldest son of Elrond Peredhil, walked through Imladris, he took this fact to heart and it pained him. Most of the Elves were gone now. His mother was long gone. His father had left almost a hundred and fifteen years ago, and his sister had chosen to forsake her Elven immortality to be with her mortal love, Aragorn.
A light tap on his shoulder alerted him to the presence of his brother, and sure enough, when Elladan turned, Elrohir stood there. He cast his brother a quick gaze, and for some reason completely unknown to the other, broke into laughter.
“What is so funny?” Elladan questioned, completely at a loss.
“I am not sure,” Elrohir admitted, becoming solemn. “Look around us. Imladris is in its dying days, a queen lying on her bed of state before she passes. But we ourselves have changed not at all. If time was a river, then it would run around us and we would never become wet. I don’t know. For some reason it seemed funny at the moment, but no longer.”
The twins said nothing for a moment, enjoying the companionable silence. After a moment, Elrohir moved to a railing and looked down. Elladan went to join him.
Below them, their grandfather, the former Lord of Lórien, was pacing silently through the gardens of Imladris, apparently deep in thought. His silver hair was combed neatly back, and his white robe, as always, was spotless.
“What keeps him here?” Elrohir said after a second. “Was he also banned from seeing the Hither Shore again? But that doom has been lifted from the Noldorin, and besides, he’s not even Noldorin. He’s Sindarin. And I see that he longs for Galadriel. So what keeps him in Imladris when he could easily take ship over the Sea and join his love?”
“I do not know,” Elladan admitted. “He already grew weary of his realm without her, and left Lórien and East Lórien to the mercy of the Beornings and the woodsmen. There are almost no Elves left in Middle-earth. They have all chosen to return to Valinor.” His gray eyes were serious as he looked at his brother. “Elrohir, time grows to a close for us as well. Soon, it will be time for us to face the choice – whether to be of Elven or mortal kind.”
“It is sad that we should live to see the end of the days of our proud race,” Elrohir responded softly. “Once, the Eldar were great. But now…” He shook his head and trailed into silence.
“If you had to choose, than which would you take?” Elladan asked. “I have never understood why Father and …Uncle Elros chose to separate themselves – one to mortal death, one to everlasting life.”
Elrohir chewed his lower lip, which Elladan knew meant that he was thinking. At last the younger twin said, “I think it would depend greatly on which you chose, brother.”
Elladan nodded, said nothing more, and put his arm around his twin’s shoulders. They stood there for a long time, watching Celeborn, each of the three Elves wrapped up in their own thoughts.
At last, when the sun started to sink, Elladan turned and hurried back into Imladris.
He walked for a long time through the almost-deserted corridors. Besides themselves and Celeborn, only a few Elves remained in Imladris. Most of what lived in the hidden elven refuge now was wind and leaves, and the faint sound of rushing water. Almost all of Elladan’s kindred had taken the ship to the west.
In the morning, Elrohir awoke early and decided to practice his swordsmanship, afraid that his skills would have dulled from disuse. He saddled his horse, rode out of Imladris well before the sun had risen, found a suitable clearing, and set to work on his practice exercises. He was pleased to see that his movements were as deft and practiced as they always had been.
Around midday, as he was stopping for a drink, he heard the thunder of hoofbeats and Elladan burst into the clearing, pressed flat to the back of his horse, who was wearing neither saddle nor bridle. The Elf leapt off almost before his stallion had stopped and ran to his brother. “Elrohir, Elrohir, you must come. Quickly!”
Elrohir flew to horse, fearing that something had happened to Celeborn. “What is it, Elladan?” he asked as they rode swiftly back toward Imladris. “Is our grandfather hurt? Has some evil fortune befallen our home?”
“No,” Elladan answered. “But a messenger from Minas Tirith has come, and -” he said no more.
Elrohir pulled his mount to a stop in the main courtyard of Imladris and saw a rider standing there, holding the reins of his black horse in a silver-gloved hand. The Tree of Gondor was worked on his black livery in white gems, and he was wearing a silver helmet.
“Greetings, messenger of the Winged Crown,” Elrohir said. “What news do you bring from Minas Tirith?”
The rider slid off his helmet, revealing a face much like their sister’s, except it belonged to a man. Long, shining dark hair framed a youthful, expressive face and dark blue eyes. It was tied back over pointed ears.
“Eldarion!” Elrohir cried, rushing forward to hug his nephew. “What brings a crown prince so far from his city?”
Eldarion’s eyes were serious as he returned his uncle’s embrace. “Bad tidings, I fear. My father is in the twilight of his years, and my mother knows this. I believe that the King Elessar has come to the end of his days, and the Queen Arwen bids her brothers to come to the city of Minas Tirith.”
Elrohir nodded. “Of course.”
He walked over to Elladan and spoke to him in a low voice, in Quenya, so there was no chance that Eldarion could overhear. “Elessar is to die soon. With him gone, I fear our sweet sister will lose her will to live and soon meet death. Eldarion will soon be an orphan, and as he is his father’s eldest son, he will ascend the throne. He will need us, Elladan.”
“I know,” Elladan answered. Raising his voice, he spoke in Westron to Eldarion. “Our thanks for bringing us this news. We will ride for Minas Tirith in the morning, with you.”
“All right,” Eldarion said.
That night, neither of the twins slept much. They prepared for their ride to Gondor, packing a few cakes of lembas and setting out their clothes – simple, with plain tunics, pants, and a gray cloak. They brushed their horses and checked their shoes, then went to bed late and rose early.
As they rode that day, a mist followed them, muffling their sounds and shrouding them from sight. Little conversation was exchanged. Eldarion rode ahead, as he knew the road to Gondor best, while Elladan and Elrohir rode side by side slightly behind him, their gray hoods pulled over their faces.
The ride took ten days and eleven nights, as their elven-horses covered the distance with a speed unrivaled by the steeds of Men. As the sun was sinking into a bank of black clouds, they arrived at the gates of Minas Tirith. Purple and pink clouds streaked the sky, and the very edge of the sinking sun peeped golden over the ominous mound of black.
Eldarion led them into the silent streets of the capital city of Gondor. The click of their horses’ hooves was the only sound in the stillness, and a sudden, unreasoning, fear gripped Elladan that they were too late.
However, Eldarion rode up the palace without looking concerned and gave the reins of his horse to a groom. Elladan and Elrohir swung off their own mounts and followed him up into the throne room.
Queen Arwen Evenstar was the only person there. She sat in the throne, clad in a red dress with a black bodice. Her long dark hair tumbled down her back, and she held the scepter of Gondor with a thin hand. Her face was drawn and pale.
“Sister!” Elladan cried, bounding across the throne room to greet Arwen with a kiss on the cheek. “It is good to see you.”
Arwen looked up at him and smiled wanly. “Greetings, Elladan, Elrohir. It is good to see you as well, my brothers, although I fear that you not have come to me in a time of joy. Aragorn has at last begun an irreversible slide toward mortal death, the black abyss that loomed over us at our first meeting.” A tear slid down her cheek, and she almost angrily brushed it away. “I thank you for your haste.”
Elrohir also crossed the throne room, although he did not greet his sister as exuberantly as his twin had done. He bowed respectfully before her. “Greetings, my Lady Queen.”
Arwen took his hand in her own and laughed ruefully. “You are unchanged, the two of you,” she said, and both of the twins thought that they heard envy in her tone. “Elladan, you are the same as always – more outgoing. Elrohir, you are still the quieter, more introverted one. Has it really been nearly a hundred and twenty years since I saw you? It might have been a day.”
Elrohir squeezed his sister’s hand, and delicately but urgently addressed the topic that had brought them to Gondor in the first place. “Where is Aragorn? May we see him?”
Arwen nodded, tight-lipped, and beckoned to Eldarion, who came forward silently. “Show your uncles to the hall of your father,” she said to her eldest son, who nodded.
Eldarion led Elladan and Elrohir up a flight of stone steps and through several halls that were hung with tapestries and adorned with paintings. However, the twins noticed that as they climbed higher, the quarters became more austere, less opulent. Soon, they stood in a hallway of unadorned stone. The left side opened out to a view of the rest of Minas Tirith – now little more than shadowy towers wrapped in night’s black cloak. On the right, there was a door, which Eldarion opened.
Inside, the chamber was small, with a balcony on the far side that looked down over a courtyard. In the middle of the room, however, was a bed canopied in red velvet, and in this bed lay Aragorn son of Arathorn, the King Elessar of Arnor and Gondor.
Eldarion bowed respectfully and faded out the door, leaving Elladan and Elrohir to be alone with their old foster brother.
Aragorn was obviously near to the end of his life. His face, although still stern and proud, was lined with age, wrinkled and creased. His hair was white as fresh-fallen snow, brushing his shoulders. A gilt coronet encircled his high brow, and his beard was neatly trimmed.
“Aragorn,” Elladan said, willing his voice not to shake as he sat on the bed beside him. “Greetings.”
Aragorn’s head turned to look at him, and a hint of what was perhaps mirth lit his gray eyes. “Is it Elladan? Strange how the time flies so quickly for mortals, and so slow for Elvenkind.” His voice was still clear and he did not pause for words, but it was not as strong as it had been.
Elladan tried to laugh, but he was afraid he was going to cry instead. “Besides Father and Mother, you were the only one that could ever tell us apart.”
“If you are here, than Elrohir must be here as well,” Aragorn said. “You always were together in Imladris.”
“Yes, I am here,” Elrohir said, sitting down on the other side of Aragorn and looking down at him. “It is…good to see you, my brother Estel.” He reached out to touch Aragorn’s shoulder. “Fear not, did you think that you would escape without seeing us one last time? Eldarion brought us here, and we have already seen Arwen. I – I – ” Elrohir found that he could not go on without tears choking him, and Elladan put a hand on his twin’s shoulder.
Aragorn smiled. “Do not mourn me,” he said. “For I have lived my time in this world, and it has been an adventure, every step of it. Now it is time for me to find my next adventure. Do you remember when we rode the Paths of the Dead together? The White Horsemen are waiting for me. They will greet me.”
“I cannot promise that we will not mourn you,” Elladan said, smiling even though tears were filling his eyes. “Just like you, Estel, always so stubborn. But you were loved in this life, and those who cared for you will mourn your passing.”
Aragorn sighed. “I know. But if you ever should ride the Paths again, know that I will be there. Elladan…Elrohir…my brothers of old. My only regret as I lie here is that Elrond is already gone, and I will never see him again, he who raised me as a son. When you sail to the Undying Lands, give him my blessings.”
Elladan and Elrohir exchanged a glance. “Lord Estel -” Elladan began.
” – We have a choice,” Elrohir finished. “We can either become mortal and die, or to stay of Elvenkind and sail to Tol Eressëa. As yet, we are not sure what we shall choose. The only thing that we know is that -“
” – We shall choose alike.”
Aragorn smiled again, but very faintly. “You still finish each other’s sentences. Unchanged, amin onooro.” (Unchanged, my kin-brothers.) “But I feel weary, and I fear that at last the End has come. Namárië….Elladan, Elrohir i’ Elrondion. Send Arwen to me.” (Farewell, Elladan, Elrohir the sons of Elrond.) For the first time since they had come to see him, his voice shook and was weak.
Choking back tears, Elladan gripped Aragorn’s hand. “Namárië, mellonamin, Aragorn Arathornion. Quel kaima. I shall send Arwen.” (Farewell, my friend, Aragorn son of Arathorn. Sleep well.)
The twins rose and went down to the throne room. “Aragorn wishes to see you,” Elladan said to his sister, carefully modulating his voice.
Arwen understood. She rose and nodded, then vanished up the stairs to where her husband lay.
Eldarion watched his uncles stand silently in the throne room. Elladan stared coolly ahead, his eyes fixed on the far wall of the chamber, but Elrohir paced nervously around, around and around, in circles, until Eldarion was sure that the imprint of his steps must have been worn into the marble floor. From above there came no sound.
Then suddenly Arwen entered the throne room, and both of her brothers crossed to her at once. She was impassive and unseeing toward them, and the waning light in her gaze had at last been quenched, leaving her eyes as cold as a fire snuffed. She was like a star that had fallen from heaven and now lay dying.
Without any of Elrond’s children speaking, they knew what had happened. Elladan put a hand on her arm, trying to find words to calm the grief he could feel raging inside her, but nothing came to him.
Arwen slid out from underneath his touch and crossed the throne room, a queen of ice that held fire in her fragile form. Eldarion moved to aid his mother, as it seemed that she would slide to the floor and faint. But she walked alone down the corridor and vanished.
Elladan and Elrohir looked at each other. They had been right. Without Aragorn, their sister was going to wither and die.
“He said…not to mourn,” Elladan murmured, his voice heavy with tears.
“In his life, I would have obeyed,” Elrohir answered. “But now I must disobey the King. For the first and only time.”
After Aragorn’s funeral, there was a small ceremony that crowned Eldarion the King of Gondor. Elladan and Elrohir were present, the last remnants of the once-proud Peredhil line, aside from their sister. Arwen was wearing a dark veil, and stood as a stone beside her brothers as her son was crowned. There was little joy in the event.
When the coronation was finished, Arwen came to her brothers, as swift and soundlessly as the shadow that she was. Her face was cold and pale beneath her veil. Tear tracks were etched into her face, but when she spoke, her voice was cool and neutral.
“Elladan, Elrohir, my brothers,” she said. “I came to bid you farewell. I am leaving Gondor, and will shortly be leaving Middle-earth. I am going to Lothlórien to die. I will not see you again.”
Elladan and Elrohir looked at each other in despair, then Elladan moved to hold his sister, drawing her head against his chest and cradling her. “Arwen… amin muinthell. Amin mela lle.” (Arwen…my sister. I love you.)
Arwen did not move from his arms, nor did she recoil from the gentle hand that Elladan placed on her shoulder. For the first time since Aragorn’s death, her brothers saw her cry.
Minas Tirith was quiet after Arwen had left and Aragorn had died. Elladan and Elrohir, still unsure of what they were or where they belonged, lingered in Minas Tirith for about a year after Arwen had left. Eldarion, although he at first sought the counsel of his uncles on important matters, did so less and less as he learned the way of being a king.
It was on an autumn day that tidings at last came to Minas Tirith about the fate of the Elven woman who had been their queen. She had laid herself down and died on Cerin Amroth, the hill in Lothlórien where she and Aragorn had first plighted their troth.
“I knew it,” Elladan said grimly. “Without her Estel, our sweet sister lost her will to live entirely. I knew it would not be long for her to die. And this makes our own choice even more imminent, Elrohir. Should we choose mortality and join our sister in the Halls of Mandos, or choose immortality and be reunited with our parents in Eldamar?”
“I do not know,” Elrohir answered. “I was thinking of our grandfather Celeborn, who chose not to follow his wife into eternal bliss in Tol Eressëa. Now he withers like our kind in the withering refuge of Imladris. What is it that keeps him here? Again I ask this question. Is it some fault of the Quendi he wishes to mend? I believe he grows weary of life as well as this land. I would see him set to rest – one way or the other – before we made our choice.”
Elladan nodded slowly.
“We have no one left besides him and each other in the world,” Elrohir continued. “Eldarion is our kin, but he is only half-elf, and I have a feeling that we shall not see him again no matter what our choice is in the end. I can feel it, Elladan. Our time to make our decision is near.” He reached out and took his brother’s shoulders. “Know that I will choose the same as you, for I would never wish to be parted from you.”
“I know,” Elladan answered. “I grow weary of Middle-earth, like Celeborn, when all have gone whom I have loved. I wish to pass again to glory in Eldamar.”
“Does that mean that you will choose immortality?” Elrohir asked.
Elladan’s smile, when it came, was unexpected and brilliant. “If you would share it.”
That night, Elrohir had a strange dream. He was standing in a plain of gold beneath the shadows of snowcapped peaks, beneath a brilliantly azure sky. The wind was in his face and hair, and he was content.
Then suddenly, the plain and sun was gone. He was caught in a blinding blizzard, and he was lost, unable to find his path when moments ago it had been clear. He stumbled, searching for something to hold, but the ground gave way beneath him and he fell toward the sea, which had somehow, inexplicably, risen from the alpine meadow.
Elrohir thrashed his way to the surface and saw, a short distance away, a gray ship with a single white sail. Elladan stood in the ship, staring sadly at him, the waves breaking in rivers of white foam around the prow of his vessel. Elrohir tried to swim to him, but the water was too deep, and it was dragging him down, beneath the surface, where only oblivion waited.
Elrohir woke himself up screaming.
It was several minutes before he could calm himself down enough to set his bed to rights. In the fits brought to him by his nightmare, he had ripped the covers from the bed and twisted them around his legs like a strange serpent. He lay gasping, spent from the throes of terror.
The door flew open, banged against the wall, and Elladan ran in. “Elrohir!” he said. “What happened? Are you all right?”
Biting his lip until he thought it would bleed, Elrohir nodded. “I had a nightmare. First, I stood in a golden field. Then a blizzard came and blinded my way. Then I fell into the Sea and struggled to swim. I saw you standing in a ship, and I tried to swim to you, but could not. I fell below into blackness and drowned.”
Elladan sat next to him on the bed, and looked at his slender hands, which were knotted in his lap. “It is the choice, Elrohir. We have to make it. We have had our time, and our happiness. I feel we shall have no more until we choose.”
Elrohir sat up and tried to discern the features of his twin from the shadows of the night. He saw Elladan’s gray eyes sparkling in the moonlight. “You wish to become immortal. Whichever life you choose, I wish to share it with you, but, brother, the truth is…I do not know if I wish to take eternal life.”
Shock registered on Elladan’s face. “You do not wish to take eternal life?” he repeated. “What madness, Elrohir? What madness? What would be better than to choose Elvenkind, stay until the moon of the Elves has waned indeed, and then pass to glory in Eldamar to be reunited with our parents? Ai, Valinor! Laurië lantar lassi súrinen, yéni únótime ve rámar aldaron.” (Like gold fall the leaves in the wind, and numberless as the wings of trees are the years.) “So did our grandmother Galadriel once sing.”
“She was banned from Valinor until just before she left,” Elrohir answered. “And I fear that one day I will weary of my life and wish to give myself to mortal death, to find peace in the Halls of Mandos. What then is living if there is no death to at last come? I fear that I might go to insane measures to be rid of my burden.”
“Do not talk like that, please!” Elladan begged. “I do not like the tone in your voice when you speak of death. It seems almost that you wish for it.”
“Nay, I do not,” Elrohir said quietly. “Not now, at least. But perhaps there might come a day, sometime in the future, when I might look at my life and say that it is better to die rather than live.”
Elladan looked despairing. “Elrohir, what has gone wrong with your mind? Why would any of the Quendi wish for death? Myself, I wish to become immortal and watch each season come and fade again. The prospect of dying like a mortal, of dying like – like our sister – it frightens me, Elrohir. I will not lie to you.”
“And the prospect of living forever when I might desire death, it frightens me,” Elladan replied softly. He gazed at his brother with tears in his eyes. “We do not wish to be parted, yet it seems that we cannot reconcile our choices. You wish for immortality, I wish for mortality. We each are frightened of the other choice.”
Elladan sighed, curling himself in a ball and drawing his knees against his chest, as he had always done when he was younger when he was afraid or upset. “Elrohir,” he murmured at last. “It kills me to say this, but if you choose mortality, I – I do not think that I would be able to choose immortality. I would choose to die with you.”
Elrohir felt tears coming to his eyes. He blinked them back, frowned at his twin, and said, “There is something you are not telling me in this, Elladan. Why is it, besides this dream, that you are so eager for us to choose our race? It is no small matter, brother.”
Elladan sighed. “I have seen the Sea.”
“What?” Elrohir nearly shouted, shooting bolt upright and staring in disbelief at his twin, who looked rather sheepish. “In the name of Lady Elbereth, when?”
“Yesterday, just before I was to retire,” Elladan admitted. “I climbed to the highest tower of Minas Tirith and looked to the South. There I saw the Bay of Belfalas, sparkling as a silver jewel in the twilight. Alas for the Sea-longing in the hearts of our kindred! Our wise grandmother Galadriel spoke rightly to Legolas when she warned him that if he should look upon the Sea, the trees and groves of this world would cease to comfort him. It is the same for me. Now that I have looked upon the Sea, no longer can Middle-earth appease the longing in my heart.”
“So this is why you press me to make haste in my choice of race,” Elrohir said, more viciously than he intended. “Now that you have seen the Sea, you want to take ship to Eldamar.”
Elladan looked hurt. “And who would not? `Tis the desire of all the Quendi once they have looked upon it.”
“You know why I hesitate,” Elrohir said. “I understand your longing, but I do not know if I share it.”
Elladan, looking away, let out a long, sad breath. “Why do you think that you would want to die, Elrohir? The Elves are fading; soon they will only be a tale told to children. There are probably not more than a dozen left in Middle-earth, most likely. Lórien is defunct and Imladris almost so. Prince Legolas of Mirkwood, who lived in Ithilien, has already passed across the Sea, after most of the Elves from Mirkwood and all those that lived in Ithilien had already gone. Our kind is a memory, Elrohir. Nothing more.”
“If I would die, than at least I would see Middle-earth in a new Age, the time of Men,” Elrohir replied. “I have some human blood in me, as do you, Elrohir, through our father’s side. True, the amount is small, but still it is there.”
“We have no one left!” Elladan said, stunned. “There are none of our kindred left! Don’t you understand, Elrohir? The Elves were a part of the old Age. They don’t belong in this new time. We don’t belong here. We belong in Eldamar, with our parents!”
He straightened, determined to talk sense into his twin if it was the last thing he did. “You don’t belong here, Elrohir. Do you not see?”
“I see only that you have suddenly taken an unreasoning interest with -“
“Enough! By the Valar, Elrohir, I will not listen to this any more! I see that you have suddenly taken a morbid obsession in death, and nothing I say will convince you otherwise. You no longer belong here. The Elves are gone. Choose immortality, cross the Sea with me, and then we will live in joy, while behind us Middle-earth rises and falls as is the natural cycle of things. Do you think that you will stop Middle-earth from forgetting us if you remain here? One lone half-elf? You will die, and they will forget you all the sooner.” Elladan’s chest was heaving, and his voice was breaking with sobs and anger.
Elrohir rose and stared at him. He had never seen Elladan lose control of his emotions before. He tried to speak, but Elladan cut him off.
“And what will you accomplish, my…brother? By living in Middle-earth after your time has passed, what will you achieve? Nothing! And would you live here in mortality even if I chose to become immortal? You will taint my days forever if you lived here alone, and made me cross the Sea by myself. There would be no joy in doing so, Elrohir! None at all!”
His voice dropped to a cracked whisper. “Although it seems you would not mind.”
Elrohir seized Elladan’s shoulders and shook him until the older twin grabbed at his hands to make him stop. “You dunce!” Elrohir yelled. “You dunce! Do you really think that I have become so detached that I would no longer care what you thought? If you do than I – have – no – idea – what – has – happened to your head!” He punctuated each word with another shake.
“All right, all right!” Elladan said. “Now stop shaking me. I understand this, Elrohir. Where we go, we will go together.” He broke into a wide grin as he stared at his brother. “By Elbereth, but you are stubborn!”
“Only as stubborn as you,” Elrohir replied.
As the twins fell to a ferocious pillow fight, the Bay of Belfalas glinted in the dark like the silver jewel that Elladan had described it as, completely unaware that it might be the one responsible for breaking Elladan and Elrohir apart forever.