Authors’ Note: Sorry it has taken so long to get this out! Thanks to all you wonderful reviewers! Let’s give a round of applause to Erutanie for forcing me (and herself) to keep plugging away at writing this, even while life has been crazy. We had planned on this chapter being longer, but decided to cut it in half so as not to keep you waiting any longer. Here’s a recap:
The twins are riding with Legolas back to Mirkwood as a sort of “escort” because of all the orc acvitity. Ninque and Tanie went along in disguise using Ninque’s ring. Elrohir broke through the diguises and reluctantly allowed them to ride with the company to Mirkwood.
On the Way to Mirkwood
“M’lord! Lord Elrond!”
Lord Elrond raised his head from his work to the door of his study as it burst open. A young male elf skidded to a stop and hurriedly bowed.
Elrond already knew what he had come to announce.
“M’lord, we found Falchion and Arnel in the feed room, tied and gagged.”
“Are they injured?”
“Besides hungry, thirsty, and sporting matching lumps on their heads, they are unhurt.”
The day the company had left, Elrond had sent for Ninque and Tanie. The messenger returned alone. He reported that the she-elves were not responding from their rooms and the doors were locked. Extensive searches of the grounds surrounding Imladris revealed no sign of them either. At first, Elrond had thought they were only rebelling and had run away for a time, but the finding of Falcion and Arnel, members of the elven company on the way to Mirkwood, confirmed his worst fears. Dismissing the messenger, he placed his head in his hands and closed his eyes.
I fail to see the purpose in Ninque possessing that accursed ring.
There is a task she must fulfill if this world is to survive the rising Shadow. Her part, be it small or great, must be accomplished. I have seen it.
My vision is clouded in this matter.
When the time comes, not from you will she need to receive guidance.
It is then the Valar’s will that these two ellith receive warrior training?
It is the Valar’s will.
Elrond raised his head and stared out of his westward facing window into the night. “So be it,” he whispered.
The next day the company began their ascent into the Hithaeglir*. Elrohir had given stern instruction that the she-elves were to stay in the midst of the company and protected at whatever cost. The overall atmosphere of the elven company had become dull. None of the usual jokes and banterings filled the air. It was all the she-elves’ fault, and they knew it. The entrance of ellith* into what had once been thought an all male company had cautioned the elves against revealing any more secrets than they already had; and which they were sure would make themselves around Imladris once the company returned home.
Ninque felt like using Tanie’s tactics and punching a few of them. Tanie tried in vain to strike up conversation, but they were reluctant to say anything besides “Yes, m’lady,” or “No, m’lady,” or “Perhaps, m’lady”.
“Please stop calling me that!” Tanie finally said angrily.
“Ai!” she exclaimed, slapping her forehead. The youngster smiled and gave a subdued chuckle, but dropped his eyes when Elrohir turned and glared at him.
Stopping at a small dell amply protected from the elements by scrub trees and overhanging rock, Elrohir gave orders for camp to be set up.
“Elrohir,” Elladan suggested, “There is another spot about another hour’s ride from here that we could easily reach tonight.”
“We are camping here,” Elrohir returned sharply.
“Very well,” Elladan backed off, slightly offended by his brother’s irritability.
In the meantime, Legolas was the only one who would even engage in intelligent conversation with the she-elves.
“I am sorry for reviving that story, Legolas,” Tanie said with a sigh, attentively watching him start the fire. “It was just, I was backed into a corner and it was the first story I could think of.”
“No, you are not sorry. Admit it.” Legolas returned with a glare.
Tanie’s eyes twinkled. “All right. I admit I shall relish your look of complete mortification and embarrassment for many days to come.”
“I must also admit that you are quite a good story teller, almost better than the real Arnel,” Legolas complimented.
“Not that that will help us much with these boys,” Ninque said, rolling her eyes. “Apparently they do not yet realize that we would much rather be around them than most of the ellith back in Imladris.”
“Which is why we left in the first place,” Tanie said loudly. No response. It was as if they did not even exist. “I am not going to spend the rest of the journey like this!” she whispered to Ninque.
“Don’t worry,” she replied reassuringly. “They will come around.” She didn’t believe her own words, but to say anything else might result in Tanie doing something drastic that could very well get them in worse trouble than they already were.
Tanie snorted, “When the Silmarils are found.”
Legolas heard their whispered discussion. “They will not be able to ignore you two for much longer,” he whispered in a playfully furtive manner, standing up and leaning secretively towards the ellith. “Elves always seem to be drawn to me and sequentially to whomever I am with.”
Tanie rolled her eyes. “And I suppose our own wit and charm have nothing to do with it, hm?”
“Of course not,” Ninque answered, waving her hand absentmindedly in the air. “We maidens are decorations. Beautiful figures with no mind of our own made for the sole purpose of attracting and wooing eligible bachelors.”
Legolas laughed. “If you like, I shall talk to some of them and see why they are so leery of you both. You would think they would crave female companionship on the weary road.”
“Don’t bother, Legolas,” Tanie said with a sigh. “I know exactly why they are avoiding us.” Her gaze strayed to Elrohir, who was sitting on a log, glaring menacingly around him.
Legolas followed her gaze. “Ah, yes. He has been rather moody today, hasn’t he?”
“Even Elladan is avoiding him,” Ninque motioned towards his twin, who was conveniently occupied on the opposite side of camp.
Elrohir’s demeanor did not improve and finally erupted when the she-elves approached him about when their shift for standing watch was to begin. As it turned out, Elrohir was not about to let them stand watch at all.
“Absolutely not!” he said, daring with his look for anyone to argue otherwise. She-elves are not so easily put off though.
“You would have trusted us if we were still Falchion and Arnel!” Tanie argued.
“Yes, but you are not. You are two ellith who know nothing of warfare. You both barely know how to hold, much less wield, blades!”
Tanie’s face darkened and her green eyes began to glint. “And what does that have to do…”
She was cut off by Legolas. “If…I may, I propose a compromise. I will agree to stand watch with the ellith, if they will only explain why they want to so needlessly cut short their sleep?”
Elrohir glared at the Prince, who shrugged his shoulders and grinned. Ninque stepped forward. “Our responsibility to this company should not be any less because of our gender. We chose to come on this journey and are prepared to carry on as many duties as the elves we replaced.”
“It has nothing to do with shirking duty, it has to do with the safety of this company!” Ninque noticed with slight amusement that Elrohir’s face was looking rather red.
“Why are you so against us standing watch, even with Legolas?” Tanie took a step closer to Elrohir and looked at him keenly. “What are you afraid of?”
Elrohir returned her look with a stony glare, then turned and stalked away wordlessly.
Elladan excused himself and followed his brother. He caught up and grabbed his gwanunig’s* arm, stopping his retreat.
“Elrohir! What is wrong with you? You have been snapping at everyone today, including me, and I’m getting sick of it! You yourself gave them permission to continue the journey with us! If you are so against them staying, send them home!”
“I only allowed them to stay for the safety of Legolas. And you heard them; they said they would not go willingly. What else was I supposed to do? No. It is partly of their deception of my father and the company, but mostly…” here he paused. “This is stupid. I am sorry I have been in such a poor mood, is that what you wanted? Are you satisfied?” he turned to go.
Elladan grasped his arm. “No and no. Why are you blocking me? Do you not trust your own brother?”
Elrohir stared hard at the ground. “The truth? I do not know why I have been so touchy. But every time I think of Tanie purposely deceiving me, it fills me with…grief, and anger. She swore to me she would not do anything rash in defiance of my father’s wishes. And to break that trust? That cut deepest.”
Elladan was truly surprised at his brother’s response. But this would not be the last time he would glimpse the depth of feelings Elrohir was beginning to experience towards Tanie.
“Elrohir, have you asked her of her reasons for coming? Perhaps she does not wish to defy Father, and does not see this as rash.”
“If this isn’t rash I’d like to know what is!” he replied angrily.
“All right. So what else is bothering you?” Elladan asked.
Elrohir glanced at him.
“I know that you cannot be this irate just because Tanie out-thought you!” Elladan said with a chuckle.
Elrohir only glared.
“Well? Out with it! I have a right to know.”
Elrohir dropped his head. “I only keep thinking that the weapons lessons we gave them only strengthened their resolve! If one of them should be hurt, or worse, it would be our fault!” he said with a shake of his head.
“You don’t honestly believe that one lesson in swordplay drove them to risk our Father’s wrath!” Elladan exclaimed incredulously. Elrohir only glanced away. “Muindor*,” Elladan softened, placing a comforting hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Ninque and Tanie themselves chose this road. Could you not sense something like this coming for many years now?”
“Yes. Which is why giving them weapons lessons was the worst thing we could have done!”
“Elrohir, if they would not have had the lesson, they would be even more ill-equipped than they already are, but that would not have stopped them.”
Elrohir gave a strained smile. “Aren’t I usually the one with the voice of reason?”
Elladan laughed. “Even the most reasonable need moments of insanity every once and a while.”
Elrohir placed his hand on his twin’s shoulder. “Hannon le, muindor,” he sighed. “I suppose I am finding out that I care more for Tanie than I realized. I feel like I’d rather have her safe at home and I never see her, than our relationship deepen yet have her in constant danger.”
Elladan thought for a moment. “Maybe we were not meant to choose between the duty to our home and the duty to our hearts,” he said slowly, leery of his brother’s response. “Maybe it is the Valar’s will that they ride with us as fellow warriors.”
Elrohir did not answer. His gaze strayed to Tanie, helping set up camp. She was laughing, her voice lightly heard on the wind. His face softened as he watched her sure and fluid movements, her comfortable manner with the fellow elves. If only things were not so complicated! He longed for Tanie to ride to battle with him, to see her by his side, both fighting for the home they so dearly loved. Yet, he knew he could not bear it if she were to be mortally wounded or killed…
“Does she know of your changing feelings towards her?” Elladan asked.
Elrohir did not answer, still watching Tanie.
“You should tell her how you feel,” he encouraged.
“No, I couldn’t. I…I don’t have her trust. She still sees me as a childhood playmate, nothing more. I would rather become close friends; give her a chance to open up to me on her own.”
“Then at least ask her for her reasons for her deception. It is as good a place as any to get her to open up to you,” Elladan said, jokingly emphasizing the last phrase. He rather liked his tactics better. Kiss, then talk.
“And what of you, dear brother?” asked Elrohir with a sudden wry grin. “Why is it you have not told Ninque of the growing affection you feel for her? Perhaps it would be wise to follow your own advice.”
Elladan’s face sobered. “I care for Ninque, very much. But not in that way.”
“Is that so?” returned Elrohir, perfectly copying their father’s disbelieving-eyebrow expression. “What of the confession to me of your love for her shortly before we left?”
“Ai! This is nothing but a passing infatuation. I will not risk her feelings by telling her of something that may fade. I could have almost any elleth in Imladris bending to my every whim at the snap of my fingers. The fair sex cannot resist my charms,” continued Elladan with a strange smile on his face, almost as though he were trying to convince himself, not Elrohir. “Why then would I put forth so much energy to woo this wild, proud, spirited creature, a daughter of the Noldor no less, when I could choose from amongst many others with much less effort?”
Elrohir shook his head sadly, turning his attention back on Tanie.
Tanie noticed Elrohir gazing at her and paused in her work. His look made her feel very uncomfortable, like he was trying to pierce her soul.
Elrohir had half made up his mind to follow his brother’s advice, when she turned away and began yelling teasingly at an elf named Eruviluion.
The smell of burning meat reached Tanie’s nostrils and she immediately began to bark orders at Eruviluion, the “cook”.
“Eruviluion! Step away from that fire before you completely scorch our dinner!” she said with a laugh.
“Gladly!” he replied, handing over the ladle and backing out of her way. He blew on his hand and inspected it, letting out a soft curse. Ninque noticed and held out her hand.
“Let me see,” she commanded. Eruviluion displayed his burn to the she-elf, who promptly produced herbs from her knapsack and applied it to the burn, muttering some words under her breath. Gently wrapping some clean linen around his hand, she said, “There, better?”
“Yes, m’lady. Thank you, m’lady,” he replied somewhat shyly and hurried away.
At dinner, Tanie received profuse compliments on the best outdoor meal any of them had ever tasted.
“M’ladies!” Egladhon exclaimed, dishing up his third helping of pan fried venison. “You should both come on more of our expeditions! Tanie could cook the meals, and Ninque could bandage up Eruviluion’s hurts whenever he attempts to redeem himself and try cooking again!”
“Yes, it is obvious he enjoys the touch of a woman’s hand.” Arodion teased. Laughter erupted as a flush mounted in Eruviluion’s cheeks.
After dinner, Elladan and Legolas took a short walk to survey the surroundings and check on their horses.
Ninque caught Elrohir’s eye and motioned away from the group. When they were far enough away from the fire, Ninque spoke softly, “I must discuss something with you, Elladan, and Legolas before we travel any further.”
“Did I hear my name mentioned?” asked Legolas as he and Elladan walked up.
“Yes,” replied Ninque, a serious look on her face. “I must speak with you and Elladan.”
“What is wrong, my little friend? You look troubled,” said Elladan.
“Nay, not troubled, really,” she returned. She pulled the chain and ring out of her tunic. “Do any of you recognize this?” she asked.
“‘Tis the ring you used to change your shape. What of it?” said Elladan.
“My lords,” said Ninque thickly, “It is not just any ring. Long ago, it was made for and belonged to a great elf lord, wise and fair. He that dared to aid the mortal Beren in his quest for the Silmaril.”
“Finrod Felagund,” breathed Elrohir. “Why then, do you keep it? My grandmother, Finrod’s sister, would be its rightful keeper.”
“Aye, that she is, for my father’s family are but distantly related to Fingolfin, Felagund’s uncle. But Beren did return it to her after the quest was complete. Few have known though, that it was this ring that aided Finrod in changing his and his companion’s shape in their attempt to slip past Sauron’s stronghold at Eithel Sirion. Before my father was born, the Lady gave this to my grandfather, foretelling that it would be needed one day by someone in our family to carry out a desperate quest. I tell you this, not because I care should something happen to me on this journey, but do not let the ring fall into enemy hands. It would be perilous.” With that, she slipped away, back to the fire leaving all three standing there, somewhat stunned.
*Hithaeglir — Misty Mountains
*ellith — she-elves (yes, the plural for she-elf is ellith, not elleths. You can’t just add an “s” to a Sindarin noun to make it plural.)
*gwanunig’s — twin (one of a pair). It really should be gwanunig ín, which is the possessive case, but it made the sentence structure rather awkward.