Hands which had too often known the stain of shed blood, and too seldom given the consecration of caresses, now wrung together in the agony of uneasy memory. Elrond sighed more loudly than he intended, instinctively turning from the window to glance back where his beloved rested in the safety of well-deserved dreams. A relieved smile briefly broke the spell of solemnity on the ancient lord's face as he noted the slow rise of Legolas' chest had not been changed by his unintentional interruption of the silence. Cautious to keep his footsteps light and his breathing even more so, Elrond crossed the stone floor of the bed chamber, claiming a chair conveniently left at the prince's side. As the ethereal reflection of Ithil's silvery glow danced across the sleeping figure's delicate features, Elrond sat in rapt appreciation of the wondrous miracle slumbering unaware before his eyes. Despite his discretion, he could not help but reach out a single finger and tenderly brush an errant, golden wisp of hair from the prince's cheek. He was rewarded with an unconscious smile and unintelligible murmur before Legolas slipped back into the fullest depths of dreams.
Such a rich tapestry of emotions - the brilliant hues of joyous adoration intermingled with the darkest tones of regret and sorrow - wove around and through his heart. So many moments of potential joy had been wasted due to the ties of family and equally intractable, the self-imposed bonds of memory.
Of all the regrets he had accumulated in the endless passage of the ages, none cut him so keenly, even to this day, as his failure to see the chasm which had grown in their youth between his brother and himself. All the signs had been there, as obvious as the star which their father had become, yet he had somehow missed their desperate message. No, he could not claim ignorance, but, rather, self-imposed blindness, hoping beyond reason that Elros would come around in his own time, in his own way.
That turnaround had never come.
In their thirteenth year, the brothers and all of Middle-earth had rejoiced in wonder at the keen call of Fionwe's trumpet, heralding the arrival of Valinor's vast army upon their battle-wearied shores. Jubilant rumors that Fionwe was calling all the faithful to his side, to accompany the mightiest army Arda had ever known in a final assault upon the Dark One and his hellish hordes flew across the land carried with the speed of eagles.
The Fearnorians had quietly discussed joining the assembling host in lengthy private conversations, yet caution and deep-seated pride ruled in the end, as they long had. They would remain apart, as they had learned to live, until such a time as their aid would help assure victory, if any dared hope for such a possibility. Unbeknownst to their guardians, Earendil's sons had listened to the covert conversations in the feign of sleep, then argued amongst themselves in the light of the next day as to the wisdom or folly of the strategy. In the end, the battle of words had further deteriorated into the uselessness of physical force, the twins each raising bright reddish welts of color into the delicate alabaster of the other's face before Maglor separated them and their whirlwind punches. Neither had admitted the true reason for the first and only physical skirmish between them, choosing to bear their punishment of a lost meal and several nights' guard duty in glaring, grumbled silence.
It was at the end of the last night's sentry duty that Elros made his foolhardy escape, slipping off into the night with no more than a bedroll and a sword. It was dawn before any knew of the boy's folly, and Maedhros and Maglor spent the entirety of that day, and most of the next, personally scouring the woods and wilds for any sign of their errant charge. Few signs turned up, none suggesting foul deeds, yet at the same time none giving a clue as to the boy's final fate. In the end they had returned with heavy hearts and empty hands, and from that day forward, Elrond heard Maglor sing naught but the most sorrowful of songs.
Thus it was that as the twilight deepened on the second day of his brother's disappearance, Elrond lay burrowed in the somehow incomplete sanctuary of the tent they had for so long shared, inconsolable and exhausted....
[Year of the Sun 545 of the First Age, the wilds of Beleriand before the changing of the world]
Elrond buried his face in his slim pillow of a folded cloak, shamefully crying in the overwhelming burden of his grief. He knew he was far too old to behave as an infant, yet he felt as if a very part of himself had been lost in the wilderness, and rightfully or not, blamed himself for his twin's desire to flee. If he is dead, his blood is on my hands, now and until the end of my days. He vainly tried to choke back his sobs, lest anyone hear his childish lack of control. Suddenly he felt a hand gently laid upon his head, tenderly stroking his hair as his mother had often done when a summer storm frightened him from his dreams. "Mother?" he called out spontaneously to the darkness of his lonely tent, part of him hoping beyond reason that she had somehow come back to him. Instead, a dazzling, dizzying luminescence split the night, a hand instinctively rising to shield his eyes from the blinding, diamond-hued brilliance which filled his surroundings.
"Some call me the Mother of All," a voice of ethereal timbre lyrically laughed.
As his eyes adjusted to the astounding radiance before him, the boy clearly made out the form of a women of unworldly loveliness, dressed in a gown of shimmering starlight.
"Lady Elbereth?" Elrond whispered in his awe, instantly lowering his gaze in trembling reverence. He felt a finger gently raise his chin to meet the indescribable, overwhelming beauty of her face. So many emotions he saw reflected there - hope, joy, compassion, sorrow, love. He felt the tears well up inside him once more, but this time tears of unashamed jubilation at the perfection that was the Starkindler. "My Lady, I must ask of you, does my brother still live?" he urgently inquired, any hint of shyness falling by the wayside in his desperation.
Varda smiled sweetly, kneeling beside the child and stroked his cheek with all the tenderness of a mother. "He does, fair child. Do not trouble yourself with his fate, as it is beyond your hands to control. Just know that he is in the company of distant kin, and there he will remain as safe as any can in these days."
His face erupting in a grin as brilliant as the Lady's aura, Elrond breathlessly babbled, "When will I see him again, my Lady? I will see him again, won't I?"
"You may indeed meet again, on the field of battle, when Fionwe's forces storm the Black Gates."
"I will be a warrior in the Great Battle?" Elrond excitedly asked. "But how? I am only a boy!"
The Lady of the Stars grasped the boy's shoulders, patiently explaining such adult matters in a way the child could grasp. "The army of Melkor cannot be defeated in a day, or even a year. You will grow to the full measure of your strength before that fateful day dawns."
"I would gladly give my life to rid the world of his foul stain," Elrond earnestly offered, his voice sounding strangely older than his tender years.
"Your life is worth more than mere battle fodder, son of Earendil. You have shown yourself to be more temperate than your twin, and I ask that you heed the prudence of that part of your nature. The future will unveil itself to you in due time - for now, it is the present which should occupy your thoughts. Learn all you can from the Feanorians, both knowledge you should emulate, and that which you should not. You have inherited the best of both bloodlines, Half-elven, but you must learn to trust your own intuition and your own strengths. Know that the wisdom of your heart will never fall short, even when logic fails." The Queen of the Valar gently caressed the boy's dark hair, studying his awestruck features with a piquant expression of sorrow not completely bereft of hope.
"Choices will come to you such as you cannot now hope to understand. Always remember to follow your heart, now and until the end of days, and you shall never fail."
With a motherly touch, she gently urged the exhausted child back to lie against the covers, smoothing out the bedroll around him. "Take your rest, son of Earendil, and conserve your strength. You will need it in the ages to come. I cannot see all that Eru has ordained for you, but I know that no matter the burdens you shall face - and they will be many - you will never be made to bear more than you can endure. You shall face loss greater than most can stand, yet you will in turn be rewarded with love beyond what you can imagine. That is my promise to you, regardless of whatever else The One has woven into the tapestry of your fate." A smile flashed like lightning across her face, her voice taking on the gentle sternness Elrond had often heard from his own mother. "Now sleep."
With a contented sigh, the boy obeyed the Lady's wishes, snuggling against the rough cloth of the well-worn bedroll. For the briefest of moments it somehow felt as smooth and soft as the fine linens of his mother's long-missed home. "What of Oropher?" he murmured without meaning to, a long-buried desire for revenge unexpectedly surfacing in the intimacy of the moment. "He would have allowed my brother and me to perish, though we be distant kin."
Varda smiled sadly, gracefully rising to her feet. "Oropher has his own destiny to fulfill, one which is set into motion even as we speak. Pain will be his constant companion, and loss his only friend."
"I do not wish such a fate on anyone, even such as him," Elrond murmured lazily, as sleep increased its hold upon him.
"His fate is not yours to decide, nor is your fate his. Perhaps one day his line and yours will find peace, but that is beyond my eyes to see." Elbereth smiled as the boy finally succumbed to the awaiting arms of Este's gift of sweet, well-earned dreams. "Always look to the stars, son of Earendil," she whispered, bending down to reach his ear. "In them you will find the peace you deserve and desire." With that knowing benediction, she placed a whisper-soft kiss upon the boy's forehead and dissolved in a shimmering haze into the starlit night.
Elrond awoke with the coming of the dawn, feeling the hint of tears still resting against his cheek. As he raised a hand to brush them away, he glanced around his tent, somehow hoping to see the Lady still there by his side. You are a fool, he chided himself.
She was never here. 'Twas only a dream, sent to comfort a mewling babe and convince him to become the man he needed to be in this time of warfare and danger. Reluctantly convinced his audience with Elbereth was merely the fancy of sleep, he despondently rolled onto his side in search of his tunic. Instead, his fingers first found a feather, white as the Lady's garment. It was a single swan's plume, the symbol of his father, and his father's father before him. A smile rose to his face as he carefully tucked it under his shirt, close to his skin, the symbol precious beyond price. Whether or not the Lady had actually visited him made no matter - she had given him a sign that his prayers were answered. In return, he would honor his ancestry as a man, not a boy, and from this day forward would serve the King he had never met and his kin of all bloods with the fortitude and fealty of his forefathers before him, even unto his final breath, if that be the Lady's wish.
"My father is the brightest star, and I am his heir," he whispered to the stillness of the dawn-chilled air. "He brings hope to the world - I shall see that it flourishes." Rising to his feet, he quickly dressed for the hardship of the day, wrapping his cloak around his shoulders and strapping his short sword to his belt. He paused, then with a grim face he grasped the hilt and slid the carefully crafted steel from its sheath. He had heard the elders speak of warriors granting to themselves, or their comrades, names of honor and respect in recognition of valiant deeds. I have not the deeds to deserve such a thing, yet I feel I am reborn this day by the Lady's blessing. He lost himself in deep thought for a moment, then purposefully drew the blade slowly across the palm of one hand.
Wincing in pain, he managed a satisfied smile as the blade did its appointed task.
"Now I have drawn blood in the name of the Light. Let it be only the first of much I spill in the battles to come, ere Morgoth is cast out of Middle-earth. For today I am truly become my father's heir, and I take the name Gil-estelion in his honor." With a smile of satisfaction, he wiped the blood from his sword onto his cloak, consecrating it, then wrapped a scrap of cloth around his still bleeding hand to staunch the crimson flow. He would remain in the faithful company of his adopted family and fight by their side in the final conflict which was to come. For he knew that the sons of Feanor would stand before the black gates of Thangorodrim at the end of this age, along with all the Faithful of the Eldar and Adan - his brother included - when the hosts of Valinor celebrated victory at last....
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