He looked up finally, his eyes gray pools swimming with misery. "I cannot watch you burn again, Ereinion."
Gil-galad reared back, stunned. Of everything he had imagined- Elrond no longer loving him, worries that the Peredhelís children would come between them, or Elrond blaming him for dying and leaving him so burdened, nothing could have prepared him for Elrondís words. I cannot watch you burn again. This is what had been holding his love back? The fear of losing Gil-galad again? He could say nothing, could not wrap his mind around the words needed to respond, and Elrond stared at him out of frightened, almost resigned, gray eyes.
Elrond rose suddenly and before Gil-galad could stop him, he left the room. Only the sound of the door-closing drove through his amazement, and without thought he jumped up to follow. Gil-galad cried out as his injured knee refused to support his weight and he stumbled, meeting the floor hard as he fell.
"Elrond!" he cried out, but it was not the half-Elf who responded to his cry.
Erestor opened the door and rushed to help Gil-galad from the floor. "He is gone," Erestor said, his voice calm as if he soothed a spooked animal.
Gil-galad lay panting on the bed, face tense as pain spread up his entire leg. He flung an arm across his face, not wanting the Advisor to see his pain or the tears that threatened. When would Elrond stop running?
"I believe he went to speak to the gwanŻn," Erestor spoke as he went about wrapping Gil-galadís knee.
"How did you come to join the twins and Estel? When you left, in the middle of the night," there Erestorís voice paused, reproach heavy in his tone, and Gil-galad flinched, chastised as only the Chief Counselor could accomplish. "We were sure you would return to Lothlůrien, but the messenger knew nothing of your whereabouts." Erestor brought Gil-galad a cup of hot laced with herbs and watched closely as the Elf finished every drop.
Gil-galad winced as the bitter liquid left a foul taste in his mouth. He watched as Erestor pulled up a chair and knew that the stoic Elf would not leave until he answered his questions. "I came upon them by sheer chance along the Sarn Gebir, and it was a good thing. They were in a fierce battle with many Orcs, Elrohir had taken an arrow to his sword arm. After the battle, they welcomed me and offered their companionship if I cared to travel with them. They did not know who I was and I did not enlighten them. It was not until Estel joined us and recognized me that the gwanŻn came to learn my real identity." Gil-galad sighed tiredly. He had not wanted to return to Imladris, instead he had planned on journeying to Lothlůrien, but the hurt knee and the forcefulness of the twins overruled his desire.
"They accepted you?" Erestor asked, with some surprise at this notion.
"Yes," Gil-galad answered, pride in his voice. "We had traveled some time together. The twins and I had fought together protecting each other. I came to like and respect them, and I had hoped the same from them. When Estel arrived and expressed his amazement that the pair had not recognized me, I think they were more embarrassed by that lapse than anything else." Gil-galad gave the Advisor a startled look at hearing the usually serious Elf snicker.
Erestor actually giggled at the mental image of the gwanŻnís chagrin. The very idea that they had traveled with one whose face graced the very walls of their own home and had not recognized the Elf sent the Councilor into peals of laughter. Erestor struggled to control himself at the look of shock upon Gil-galadís face, but he could not prevent the laughter in his voice. "They should have paid more attention to their lessons." This sent the Elf into fresh laughter.
Gil-galad could only shake his head at the peculiarities of Elrondís household. He was weary, so very tired of having a woe-filled heart. Just a bit of peace had been found in the wilds, but that had disappeared when Estel had revealed his secret to the twins. Gil-galad had held nothing back from the pair. His guilt at deceiving them had not allowed that. Only the Valarís reasons for his return still remained hidden. And he was no closer in figuring out what role he was to play in the twinsí lives. How was he to influence their decision? Even the time spent exclusively in their company this past year had not revealed any information.
Estelís company had provided some missing pieces of the puzzle. The twinsí teasing of their foster brother had spoken volumes. Elladan and Elrohir had seemed to delight in bringing flushes to the humanís features with their references to Arwen and the eagerness young Estel showed in returning soonest to Imladris. Indeed, the very longing that entered the heir of Isildurís voice when he spoke of Arwen Evenstar was telling in itself; that Arwen returned the young humanís affections Gil-galad did not doubt. So that part of the visions revealed by the Valar would come to pass. Elrond would lose his daughter. Arwen would choose the same path as Elros.
Gil-galadís heart had bled for his love. To go through such torment of having a loved one chose the path of mortality for the second time was too much for an Elven heart, and if the twins should seek the same path; it would break the half-Elf. But Gil-galad had seen no signs that the pair longed for their sisterís fate. If they had made the choice in their hearts, they hid it well. One thing worried Gil-galad; at no time during their journeying together did they discuss CelebrŪan. The twins asked no questions of their motherís fate.
So lost in his thoughts was Gil-galad that he did not see when Erestor left him alone. Would the twins reveal their feelings to their Adar? Had they out of kindness or some misplaced feeling of atonement not revealed to Gil-galad that they resented his presence here? Would Elrond return, only to tell him that Elladan and Elrohir did not want him a part of Elrondís life? Gil-galadís thoughts were awhirl, and it was with a confused and troubled heart that he drifted to sleep.
Elrond had not gone to his long-missed sons. He had hidden himself in his study, a full glass of miruvor serving as his courage. That is where Elladan and Elrohir found him. He accepted the embraces, but avoided their eyes. He stood once more, back turned, eyes unseeing out the window. "How came you to travel with Ereinion?" he asked.
It was Elladan who retold much of the same tale Gil-galad had imparted to Erestor, with one exception; Elladan did not gloss over Gil-galadís timely intervention in the battle. "He saved Elrohir, Ada. That arrow had paralyzed Elrohirís sword arm, and an Orc approached him from the rear, bent on ending his life. If it had not been for Gil-galadís decapitating that Orc-..." Hear, Elladan could not go on, his voice too overcome with emotion at the very thought of losing his beloved twin.
Elrond too sent a prayer of thanks to the Valar for Ereinionís presence at his sonsí side. Finally he turned and went to the twins, hugging them both tightly in thanks of their very presence. Elrond took a seat next to his sons and listened to the rest of the tale. Had his heart been lighter, he too would have laughed at the pairís chagrin and embarrassment at not realizing whom their traveling companion was. Elladan defended them by saying, "One does not expect to see the former High King of the Noldor, who is supposed to be dead, wandering the wilds hunting and cooking like an ordinary Elf."
After the brethren finished their story, silence hung heavy in the air, and it took great courage for Elrond to ask what was on all their minds.
"How do you feel about Ereinionís return to my side, ynen?" Elrond did not shy away from their gazes; this question he had to brave through. (my sons)
Elladan said nothing. It was Elrohir with tears in his eyes who ask the question both brothers sought to understand. "Why not Naneth, Ada?" (Mother)
Elladan spoke before Elrond could. "Is it because he is the one you have always loved, and not Nana?" (Mom)
Elrond rose to pace, unable to look into Elrohirís sad eyes or Elladanís frank gaze. "I loved your mother, Elladan," Elrond said, his steps taking him back to his lonely view out his window.
Elrond heard his sons rise also and felt their presence beside him at the window. "But not as much as you love Gil-galad," Elrohir whispered, no question in his voice; just a simple acceptance of the truth.
"Yes," was all Elrond could say.
To be continued...