The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.
T. S. Eliot
Elrohir wandered through the lonely woods high above the valley of Imladris, feeling oddly despondent and ill at ease. Since his return to the valley, only days ago, he had felt a deep restlessness and disquiet. Great events were afoot, events over which he had no control, and had no real part in. The next few months would prove the culmination of everything he, his father and his brothers had striven for – or the end of everything.
He had spent precious little time in the valley in recent months, and for the first time ever had found that his home was not the solace and sanctuary it had always been in the past. Even in the darkest times, in the blood-soaked years following his mother’s departure, Imladris had been an unfailing haven of peace and serenity. Yet now, there was a discordance in the tranquil murmur of streams and waterfalls, a restlessness beneath the trees. For him, Imladris was no longer the homely house of memory. Something had disturbed the peaceful pattern of life here, and left him restive and ill at ease.
Now, on the eve of the Fellowship’s departure, his restlessness had driven him far from the house, along steep paths through woods of beech and oak, up through pine trees and into the isolated hills. Something troubled him, calling him to these remote places, but he did not know what. He wandered in uneasy solitude, reluctant to return to the demands of duty and his family yet.
He reached a point where the path ran along the edge of a cliff. The ground fell away steeply, and the whole of Imladris was revealed in front of him. Far below, lights flickered beneath the trees, reflecting off the silver glint of streams and pools. It seemed somehow remote, a world away from the wooded hillside where he stood in lonely contemplation. Something had changed – he had changed. Imladris was his home, and he loved it, but he no longer felt he belonged there. Pausing, he settled onto a rock to gaze out over the valley despondently. If, by some incredible chance, the Ring was finally destroyed, then all this would soon fade. He knew only too well that much of his father’s power was strengthened by Vilya, and that Vilya was tied to the Ring. Without the hidden power of the elven rings, Imladris – and Lothlorien as well – would not, could not, last. One had only to look at distant Mirkwood to see that. There, darkness and evil had encroached inexorably throughout the forest, welling unceasingly from the fastness of Dol Guldur. Only Thranduil’s indomitable will and determination still held it at bay from the wood-elves’ final enclave, and the cavern fortress where they now dwelt might be a natural environment for dwarves, but never for the Eldar. The thought of this beautiful valley blighted and decaying in the same way was unbearable.
He sighed, lost in contemplation. If only there was some other way. If only Sauron’s defeat could be brought about without such a terrible cost – for they had already paid such a high price. He had lost his mother to this evil. Now he would lose the foster brother he loved as one of his own, his beloved sister, and the home he had loved for nigh on three-thousand years. Victory – if it ever came – would have such a bitter taste. If only his father would use Vilya to its full potential! If all its latent power was unleashed, Imladris would surely be safe for ever, no matter what the future held. But his father was afraid; afraid of revealing the existence of the elven rings; afraid of attracting Sauron’s attention; afraid … of what?
The evening mist rose, drawing a veil across the valley, accentuating all that he would lose. Drawing a deep breath, Elrohir stirred, aware of the gathering darkness, but not yet ready to return to the light and mirth of Imladris, where elves sang and danced in desperate denial of what was to come.
Through the gloom beneath the trees he glimpsed another solitary figure – one of the hobbits. The air of fragility and vulnerability identified him as the Ring-bearer, and Elrohir moved silently towards him. Perhaps with this odd creature – a stranger – he could share the burdens he could not share with anyone else, not even with his twin. He knew without doubt that Elladan would understand, would know how he felt – and that was part of the problem. There were times when he felt that he and Elladan were too close, when Elladan’s empathy irritated him. There were times when he needed to talk to an outsider, someone who did not understand, did not already know how he felt.
Stepping out of the shadows beneath the trees, he called softly. “Frodo?”
The hobbit looked up, his gaze wary. “My lord … ” He hesitated, clearly unsure who he was talking to.
Frodo nodded. “You are one of Elrond’s sons, aren’t you?” he questioned.
Elrohir nodded. “I am. Will you walk with me? You should not wander alone, Frodo – even here. There are dangers in all places now.”
A little reluctantly it seemed, Frodo nodded. “Very well.” Clearly continuing his own thoughts, he glanced at Elrohir curiously. “You are the younger son?”
“Nay!” Elrohir exclaimed a little curtly. “We are twins. We are the same age.”
Frodo shot him a startled look. “Forgive me,” he stammered. “I thought – I thought I heard Elladan call you ‘little brother’ this afternoon. Then he is the younger?”
“No!” At Frodo’s increasingly puzzled expression, Elrohir sighed. Elladan’s constant ‘little brother’ jibes rankled at times, but it was not the hobbit’s fault. “Life starts at the moment of conception, not birth,” he explained patiently. “As twins, it was impossible to tell which of us was conceived first. Therefore we are the same age, though my birth – so I am told – occurred shortly after Elladan’s.”
“Oh.” Frodo was silent for a moment, pondering this. “So why does he call you ‘little brother’?” he persisted.
“Because it amuses him!” Elrohir snapped shortly.
Frodo said nothing more, but cast Elrohir a rather uneasy look. They walked together for a while; strangers drawn together by circumstance; and with an effort, Elrohir began to speak of other matters, and tales of Bilbo’s life in Imladris. After a while, though, he fell into a morose silence. Black depression grew in him again as whispers assailed his mind. Even the hobbit sees it. You are but the second-born – lesser, inferior. Always Elladan is the leader, the one whom others look to for command. Elladan is the one who will inherit this place – for how can you share the rule?
Elrohir shook his head angrily, alarmed by his thoughts. It was not true. He and Elladan both had their own roles to play within Imladris. And if they decided to stay on Arda when their father finally sailed, they would perform those roles together, as they always did. If you both decide to stay. If you stay together. But what makes you so sure that Elladan will make the same decision as you? Perhaps he yearns to be free. Do you really think he wants to spend eternity with you? Why should he?
“Because we swore we would make the same choice!”
Frodo’s voice, startled, broke in on his musings. “I beg your pardon?”
Abruptly, Elrohir realised that he had spoken aloud. “Forgive me, Frodo. I – I fear my mind was elsewhere.
The hobbit stared at him warily. “Of course. We are all a little preoccupied.”
“Yes.” Even as he agreed, Elrohir felt the whispering, seductive voice again, calling to him. What future is there for you here? Imladris is doomed in any event … unless you take action. You could protect the valley, preserve it for all time. Unless you want to rule over a dead and dying realm.
Elrohir shook his head, trying to ignore the alluring murmur at the edge of his mind. Yet the whispering grew louder, harder to ignore. Think what you could achieve with Vilya. Think what could have – should have – been achieved before, if Vilya had been wielded by one with courage and vision.
An image of Celebrían in the last bleak days came into Elrohir’s mind. His mother was frail, her eyes empty, and so thin it seemed that a gust of wind would fell her. Nothing, it seemed, could help her now. But it need not have been like that. It should not have been. Vilya could have been used to heal her mind; to restore her to health and vitality. It would have been so easy – you could have done it. You know that, you know you have the skill. But Elrond did nothing. Because he was afraid. Because he feared he lacked the strength and wisdom to do so. He feared Vilya’s power. He lacked the will to save her.
He tried to push the distressing images from his mind, but the enticing whisper continued. Take me. Take Vilya. Together we would be unassailable – and your home, your family, would be safe for ever.
He stopped, and drew a deep breath, thrusting such thoughts away. It was hard, though – the soft voice was so tempting, so persuasive. All he had ever wanted was to protect his home, his family. And yet he had failed utterly and disastrously with his mother; her torment a never-ending reminder of his inability to keep her safe. He should have done something; he could have done something if he had used Vilya in the way he had begged his father to. Yes. Take me – you know you have the strength, the will, to wield me. You can do this. You know you want to. It is time for you to act, before it is too late.
Images flashed into his mind; of Aragorn crowned King without the need for bloody battles and possible defeat, Arwen radiant at his side, yet still Elven, not having to renounce her immortality. He saw himself sitting on a chair – no, a throne – in the centre of the great hall of Imladris; Elladan kneeling before him, his head bowed in supplication. He saw his mother returned from Valinor, her health and happiness and joy in life restored. Yes, you can do this.
Elrohir stopped, and slowly turned to face the hobbit. The sheer cliff lay only yards away – it would be such a tragedy if Frodo were to slip and fall. And yet the night was dark, the path icy and slippery. The steep hillside was treacherous for the unwary, or those unfamiliar with the terrain. Who was to say the unfortunate hobbit had not wandered off the path and tumbled to his death? All knew of the burden he carried, how troubled and preoccupied he had been of late. Sam himself had chided his master for being inattentive. It could lead to carelessness, and carelessness often led to such tragic accidents.
Take me. Take me. Take me.
Slowly, Elrohir stretched his hand out towards Frodo.Next chapter