Elrohir lay on his back on the soft grass, gazing at the sky. “I could get used to this,” he mused.
“Mmm,” Elladan grunted in reply. “No studying. No lessons. Life like this would be good.”
They were on the first day of a journey to Mithlond – the furthest they had ever travelled from Imladris. Elrond had business with Círdan the Shipwright, and after much begging and pleading, he had finally agreed that the twins could also journey with him – and then, inevitably, Celebrían also went. Two of the border guards accompanied them for protection, but that was it.
“Nothing we have to do. No jobs or tasks,” Elladan continued with a note of satisfaction. Their parents insisted that they helped with some of the chores performed by the servants at times, so that they understood the work involved in running a household the size of Imladris, and did not become accustomed to ‘a life of ease’, as Elrond phrased it.
They lay a moment longer, then Elrohir raised his head as Eilenach, one of the guards, passed them. He carried several water skins. “I am going to fetch more water,” he told them. “Do you want to come?”
“And I,” Ilmarin added, “am going to catch some rabbits for our supper. Who wants to go hunting?”
“I do!” Elladan responded quickly.
Elrohir hesitated, then scrambled to his feet and went towards Eilenach. “I’ll go with you, then,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair if we both help Ilmarin, and leave you on your own.”
As Eilenach handed him two of the water carriers, Elrohir followed the guard down to the water’s edge. He was about to fill the first skin when Eilenach stopped him. “Wait. Think about which way the stream flows first. And what do we need to use water for?”
“Drinking, for us and the horses,” Elrohir replied immediately. “Washing. And …” he paused, thinking. “What else?”
“Washing up, among other things,” Eilenach said. “Now, do you think we should take the drinking water from upstream or downstream after someone has washed?”
Elrohir grimaced as he understood. “Upstream. I wouldn’t want to drink water Elladan had just washed in!”
Eilenach nodded his approval. “Good. Take your dagger, and cut four clumps of grass. Like this.” He cut a small turf, turned it over deftly, and replaced it in the hole he had made. The rich, dark soil showed up vividly against the green grass. “Cut three more, evenly spaced. Put the last one down there.” He pointed downstream. “In the morning, before we leave, we will put the grass back in place, so there is no lasting damage.”
“Why four?” Elrohir questioned as he set to work. “Drinking, washing, washing up – why do we need four?”
Eilenach pointed to the furthest point, where Elrohir had just placed the final mark. “That is where we pee in the river!” he explained with a grin.
Elrohir returned to their camp site, and rounded up the horses to guide them down to the river to drink. By the time he finished, their bed rolls had been set out, a bright fire was crackling, and Elladan and Ilmarin were preparing the last of the rabbits they had caught. Elladan looked up with a grin, his hands bloody. “Supper will be ready soon, El!” he called.
Celebrían licked her fingers as she finished the last of her meal, and sighed contentedly. “Look at them both,” she said, watching the twins as they argued amiably over which of them should get the final sliver of meat. “They seem so happy. It was a good idea to allow them to come on this trip – and I am very glad that I decided to come! The break from routine will do us all good.”
Elrond laughed as Eilenach settled the argument by snatching the disputed morsel and eating it himself. “Yes. The new lands they will see; the different races – it will be good for them.” He chuckled in amusement. “Do you see that?”
Elrohir had gathered up the wooden platters they had eaten from, and the utensils they had used. He called to his brother. “Come on, El – we’ll do the washing up. It’s this way; I’ll show you. Did you know that we have to do things like washing, and washing up, and peeing, all at different places, and well away from where we get drinking water? Eilenach told me!”
Celebrían smiled. “Can you imagine them volunteering for tasks like that at home? Fetching water, gutting rabbits – and washing up! And to think Elladan told me earlier how glad he was that they would not have to learn anything or do anything for the next few weeks!”
The journey continued in a similarly peaceful fashion. They would rise early, breakfasting on cold rabbit, berries or nuts, and anything else left over from the previous evening’s meal. The ashes of the fire, now cold, would be cleared, and soil scattered over the remains. They left no trace of their passage.
Taking to the road again, they would walk or ride all morning, with a brief halt at mid-day to rest the horses, eating waybread from their supplies. Before dusk fell, they would seek a camp site, and quickly fell into the routine of setting it up.
The novelty of performing these necessary tasks had not worn off for the twins, and they cheerfully turned to the jobs assigned them for the evening, listening avidly as Eilenach, Ilmarin or their parents explained something.
Celebrían and Elrond were not exempt from the work either, and one evening Celebrían took her sons down to the river to show them how to catch fish.
“Wait there on the bank, and watch. Be very quiet,” she instructed them. She stood, knee-deep in the chilly water, perfectly still. “You must be patient,” she breathed, as Elrohir shifted restlessly. Her hands were submerged, and before long a brownish-coloured fish swam lazily through them. With a move like lightning, she cupped her hands and straightened, scooping the fish out of the water and tossing it onto the bank.
Elladan and Elrohir were open-mouthed with astonishment. They had fished before, of course, using a baited hook and a length of thread, but had never imagined that their mother had this skill.
“Come down here, and I will show you.”
The twins joined her in the water, copying her stance. Elrohir stood silently, holding his breath. Almost immediately a fish swam near him. He grabbed at it, but it smoothly evaded his grasp and was gone, leaving him with nothing but a handful of river. Elladan howled with laughter, and Elrohir vented his frustration by splashing a wave of water at his brother.
“Stop it!” Celebrían scolded them. “If you disturb the fish like that, we will never catch them. Then what will you have for supper? Do not be too hasty.”
They subsided, and waited again. Elrohir concentrated on remaining still, ignoring the cold of the water that hurt his hands, and willing a fish to come to him. He looked up at a sudden splash, and saw that his mother had caught another fish, even larger than the first. Almost immediately, Elladan gave a crow of triumph as he caught his own. “I did it! Did you see, El? I did it!”
Elrohir grinned at his brother’s success, though he wished he had been first. “Well done,” he replied briefly, now even more determined to succeed. He had no wish to be the only one unable to contribute to their meal that night. A flicker of movement in the water caught his eye, and he froze, holding his breath again. A large brown trout glided towards him, but he made no move. Not yet. ‘Come here, fish. Just a little closer. Come here,” he willed it silently. It came closer, and closer, and then – it was within his hands, brushing against his fingers. He felt almost sorry as he scooped it up and threw it onto the bank.
Celebrían smiled at them both. “Well done!” she praised. “Just one or two more, I think.”
Elladan was able to catch one more, and then Celebrían caught a sixth and final fish. There was more than enough for their supper, and there would be some left over for breakfast the next day. They began to wade out of the river, when suddenly Celebrían slipped on the slick stones. She sat down hard in the icy water, and a lurid curse escaped her before she clamped her lips together. “Mother!” Elladan and Elrohir exclaimed together, both shocked to hear her use such language.
She looked at their horrified expressions, and burst into laughter. “I apologise, my dears. You should not have heard me say that. Please forgive me. Now, will you help me up, please?”
They made their way back to the camp site, wet, cold, flushed with laughter, and triumphant over their catch.
As they drew nearer to Bree, they began to see more and more signs of habitation. There were isolated farmsteads, tiny hamlets in the distance, and they began to pass more travellers on the road – farmers, traders, a travelling minstrel. There were even dwarves, in pairs or groups; stumping along in heavy boots or riding small, stout ponies. The land to the north was flat and marshy, and a cold breeze blew towards them from the windswept wastes.
Elrohir tried hard to conceal his excited curiosity. It was difficult, though – there was so much to see, so much that was new and completely unfamiliar. A glance at Elladan showed that he was just as excited, looking in all directions at once, trying to see as much as possible. It was the first time either of them had been anywhere near a village of men, although they had met several of the Dúnedain of Arnor. The only other long journey they had ever made had been a visit to their grandparents’ realm of Lórien, along with what had seemed like half of Imladris; and they had seen no-one else then for the entire trip.
“Look!” Celebrían’s voice came from behind them. Turning, he looked where his mother was pointing, at a single-storeyed building, dwarfed by four great triangular sheets of material, attached to frames of wood. The whole framework turned slowly about a central point in some way. “Whatever is that?” she continued.
Elrohir had never seen such an odd-looking structure. He shared a glance with Elladan. It amused them both to see their mother every bit as entranced and excited by some of the strange things they saw on their journey as they were.
“A windmill,” Elrond began to explain.
Elladan had been listening, and was studying the building carefully. “It works like the watermill at home,” he reasoned thoughtfully. “Only it uses wind to make it work, not the river. The wind turns the sails, and they turn gears and wheels inside. Is that right?”
Elrond nodded. “Yes. Well done.” He smiled. “The people here use windmills to grind wheat and corn for flour, not waterwheels.”
Elrohir was impressed. Elladan, rather more mechanically minded than he was, had been quick to see the similarities between two very different places, and work out how the mill operated. He had no intention of showing his twin that he was impressed, though. “Show-off!” he muttered disdainfully. Elladan merely grinned at him.
“Jealous, little brother?” he asked with a smirk.
They passed an inn, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, began to drop down into a wooded valley, then climbed again.
“Look, there is Bree.” Elrond pointed ahead as they emerged from the trees. A hill rose ahead of them in the distance, and a number of small houses clustered around the lower slopes, partly hidden by a great hedge.
As they drew nearer, Elrohir realised that the road did not circle the town, as he had supposed, but actually passed through it. A deep ditch lay in front of the hedge, and the road crossed this by a stone bridge, and passed through a gate. The gate stood open now, but he guessed that it would be closed at nightfall. He and Elladan had assumed that they would pass by the town completely, and only see it from a distance – but now it seemed that they would actually go through it, and see the people, the houses, the town itself, all at close hand.
“We can do one of two things,” Elrond continued. “It is early, so we could pass through and camp by a forest that lies some way further along the road – or if you wish, we can halt overnight at the inn here, and continue in the morning. Which would you prefer? Celebrían?”
Elrohir scarcely dared breathe. Silently, desperately, he willed his mother to agree to the inn. Beside him, Elladan had gone very still, and he knew that his twin was equally anxious.
Celebrían considered. “I would love to be able to wash in hot water, and to wash my hair,” she announced. “I think we would all appreciate food we do not have to catch and cook ourselves, and real beds. The inn, I think. Do you all agree?” The others nodded. Even the two guards looked relieved, Elrohir noticed.
They passed through the gate and rode along the road, which now formed the main street of the town. Elrohir quickly realised that he and Elladan were far more curious about the people here than they were about him. The elves drew a few curious glances, but were largely ignored. He supposed that the Bree-folk must be used to odd travellers, living as they did so close to the crossing of the West and North roads. He gazed about him as they passed several houses and gardens, and narrow, intriguing-looking lanes that led between them. They passed several people, some hurrying about their business, others ambling slowly here and there. Two women gossiped companionably over a low wall between their houses.
Edging his horse nearer to Elladan, he pointed to a flight of steps that climbed up the side of the hill, towards yet more houses. “El, I want to explore. Do you think we’ll be allowed?” he whispered. “I want to see where all these little pathways go!”
Elladan nodded. “I hope so. Look at the houses! They seem so small. Let’s ask, as soon as we get to the inn. And the people! There are so many of them!”
The inn itself lay on the far side of the town, facing the road. A central archway led to a courtyard and stables, and a door on one side of the arch led into the inn. As Eilenach and Ilmarin led the horses beneath the archway into the courtyard, Elrond pushed open the door that led into the inn itself. Elrohir and Elladan followed him closely, while Celebrían stood on the steps just outside, gazing at the bustling courtyard.
They stood in a long hallway, with doors on the left and right. The door on the left stood open, and led to a long room that seemed to run the width of this side of the inn. There were many table and chairs, a fireplace at both ends, and a long wooden counter along the rear wall. Several of the tables were occupied, and the cheerful chatter died away briefly as the customers studied them, then resumed drinking.
A short, cheerful-looking man stood behind the counter, wiping it with a not-too-clean cloth. He looked up and smiled in greeting. “Well now, welcome to The Prancing Pony!” he announced in Westron. “I’m the landlord, Brindley Butterbur. We often get elves passing through Bree, but they don’t often stop off at the Pony!”
“Greetings,” Elrond replied. “There are six of us – my wife and myself, my sons, two companions; and our horses. We wish to stay overnight, if you please.”
Brindley Butterbur nodded. “Well now, I can find you three rooms; next to each other what’s more!” He suddenly winked at Elladan and Elrohir. “I expect you two lads would rather be in a room of your own than with your ma and pa!”
Startled, they both nodded. “Yes, we would. Thank you, sir,” Elladan replied in careful Westron.
“Right, then. You wait there, if you please, and I’ll go and see what’s what. If you left your horses out in the courtyard, I daresay my lad Dan will be seeing to them by now.” Butterbur bustled off, and Elladan and Elrohir rounded on their father.
“Can we go and look around? Please!”
Elrond shook his head. “No, absolutely not. This is a strange town – you have no idea what may be here!”
“Exactly – that’s why we want to explore! Please, father!” Elrohir begged. He turned to Celebrían, who had just come in. “Mother? Can we look around the town? Please?”
Elrond and Celebrían exchanged a long, silent look. Elrohir realised they were communicating wordlessly, just as he and Elladan did. But unlike him and Elladan, he had no idea what the outcome might be. They waited impatiently.
Elrond sighed. “Very well. But you must stay inside the town – do not set foot outside the gates!” The twins nodded their agreement. “And you must promise to stay together,” he added unnecessarily.
“Yes, of course we will!” Elladan vowed.
“A horn is sounded half an hour before the gates close at dusk,” Elrond continued. “If you are not back by then, you must turn back as soon as you hear the horn. Do you understand?”
Elrohir nodded. “Yes. Thank you, father!”
Celebrían smiled. “Go on, then. Remember to be on your best behaviour!”
“We will. And we promise we won’t swear,” Elladan commented slyly.
Celebrían flushed a little, her eyes dancing. “Go, then! Before it gets dark!”
Elrohir hurriedly hauled his brother out of the door beneath the arch before their parents could change their minds. They stopped, and glanced up and down the road.
“Which way shall we go?”Stories > Next