The message was simple and straightforward, if rather brief: ‘I have news. Meet me at the Prancing Pony in Bree before the next full moon. Arathorn.’
Elrohir read the note aloud and gazed at Elladan. “I wonder what he has to tell us? I hope it is not more bad news. There has been far too much of late.”
Elladan took the note from Elrohir and read it again, then looked up. “Aye – the patrols are full of dark tidings and rumours of fell creatures. Well, there is only one way to find out.” His expression turned grave. “I think we should hurry.”
They reached Bree at dusk a week later, two days before the full moon. As they rode into the stable yard Arathorn was already waiting. They drew the horse to a sudden halt as he came striding forward to meet them, a wide smile lighting his face.
“I wonder what has happened? He has not been that pleased to see us since he was a fosterling,” Elrohir observed in a low voice.
Elladan nodded. “No,” he murmured. ““But I suspect we are not the reason for that smile. I think he has good news. But what?”
“Elladan! Elrohir! I am to be married!” Arathorn called by way of greeting. “I wanted you to be the first to know!”
The twins exchanged a look of incredulous surprise, and returned his smile. “Married? Well, it is about time!” Elladan responded.
“Could you not have made your note clearer?” Elrohir demanded. “We feared you had dire news to tell us. But this is wonderful!”
They both dismounted and hugged Arathorn. “Congratulations, brother! This calls for a drink or three.”
Arathorn stepped back and looked at them with suspicion. “Will I have to pay?” he asked warily.
Elladan laughed. “Not this time! Just this once we will treat you. It truly is the most welcome news.”
“We thought you were going to let the line of Elros die out.” Elrohir added with a grin. “You are getting old!”
“Yet at the same age you were barely past your majority,” Arathorn struck back. “It makes no difference – age does not matter! No matter what they say,” he muttered to himself. He shrugged, then returned his brothers’ embrace. “Ah, it is wonderful to see you again!” He waited while the twins handed their reins to the young stable boy and picked up their packs, then followed them beneath the arched doorway into the bar.
Elladan tossed a handful of copper coins to the innkeeper, receiving three brimming mugs of ale in exchange, and they sat at a corner table between the cheerfully crackling fire and a small leaded window. Candles flickered on the table while outside the darkness grew. “Now tell us everything,” Elladan instructed. “Who is she? What does she look like? Why, in all of Arda, has she agreed to marry you?”
“And does my father know yet?” Elrohir added.
“Her name is Gilraen. And I have written to Lord Elrond to inform him – but I wanted to tell you myself!” Arathorn fished inside his tunic and pulled out a pouch of soft leather. He extracted a folded sheet of paper and opened it reverently. “Look – I did this drawing of her. Her parents are Dírhael and Ivorwen – do you remember, we fought beside Dírhael last year, up in the Ettenmoors.”
Elladan nodded. “I remember.” He eyed Arathorn and grinned. “No wonder you were so keen to ride back with him rather than return with us to Imladris!”
“For all the good it did me,” Arathorn muttered. “Elrohir?”
Elrohir studied the drawing. “A pretty girl,” he mused. “She looks rather young though – I thought the Dúnedain did not marry their daughters off until they were nearer to thirty years of age?”
“She is two and twenty.”
“Very young,” Elladan observed. “You are old enough to be her father.”
“And you are old enough to be her hundred times great grandfather!” Arathorn snapped.
“True,” Elladan agreed with a smile. “So, what is wrong with her?”
“Wrong?” Arathorn replied with an edge of steel in his voice. Elrohir cast him a sharp look.
“Yes, wrong,” Elladan continued his teasing obliviously. “Is the girl blind, or half-witted? What does she see in you?”
“Elladan …” Elrohir murmured in warning.
Elladan took no notice. “Is she deficient in some way? And what do her parents say? Are they happy about this?”
Arathorn pushed his seat back with a crash and leapt to his feet. Snatching up his mug of ale, he poured the contents over Elladan’s head. “That is enough, Elladan!”
A dead silence fell as the other customers of the inn turned to watch, perhaps hoping for a fight to enliven the evening. Elrohir gaped at his brothers in surprise, and then burst into a shout of laughter, breaking through the awed silence. The conversation surrounding them resumed, rather louder than before but with an undertone of disappointment.
Baldor Butterbur bustled over to them, wiping his hands on his apron. “Now then, now then – what’s all this? I’ll have no arguments in my inn!”
Elrohir leaned towards the innkeeper and tossed him a silver coin. “I apologise on behalf of my companions. There is no argument – and my brothers will not trouble you again.” He gave Elladan and Arathorn a hard look. “Will you?” he hissed at them. Smiling at Butterbur he added, “More ale, if you please – and supper for three?”
Butterbur stared at him, glared at Elladan and Arathorn, and then looked down at the coin. He nodded. “Very well – more ale, and supper for three. There seems no harm done. But no more trouble, mind. Keep your disagreements to yourselves in future!”
Elladan blinked at him as ale dripped off his hair and eyelashes and trickled down his face. “We will. I apologize if we have disturbed your customers – I seem to have upset my brother here.”
“Ha! That’s as maybe. But don’t you go and upset him again – or my customers! And you,” Butterbur added as he turned to Arathorn, “I’ll thank you to mind your temper – and keep your ale where it belongs. Look at this mess!” He swabbed at the table and then bustled off, tucking the silver coin safely into his pocket.
Elladan brushed his dripping hair out of his face and grinned at Arathorn. “It must be love,” he declared. “He keeps her picture next to his heart, and defends her honour.” He extended his hand across the table to Arathorn. “Congratulations, brother!”
Arathorn flushed. “Elladan – I am sorry. I should not have …”
Elladan waved a hand dismissively. “I daresay I deserved it.”
“Yes,” Elrohir agreed. “You did.”
Arathorn picked up his empty tankard, tried to drink from it, and then set it down again. Elrohir slid his own – still half full – towards him. “Why so touchy, brother?” he asked.
Arathorn drained Elrohir’s ale and sighed. “It is her parents – well, her father. Dírhael agrees with you – that she is too young, and that I am too old. And if he will not give his consent … what am I to do? It will be another eight years before she can marry of her own will.” He gazed at Gilraen’s picture again. “I do not think I can wait that long,” he muttered.
Elrohir nodded. “So – you want to waste no time in wedding her, but you need to gain her father’s approval first,” he surmised. “What can we do to help?”
Elrohir frowned. “Come now – there is no need to be so despondent! There must be something we can do.”
“I mean you can help me best by doing nothing!” Arathorn clarified. “Leave me to deal with this alone. With your help Dírhael would likely ban me from ever seeing his daughter again, and forbid me to even darken his doorstep. I do not need your help!”
“Yet you asked us to meet you here,” Elladan pointed out. “Was it just to tell us your good news, or for something more? Whether you realise it or not, you want our help.”
Arathorn shook his head. “But what do you know of love? Neither of you are married!”
“We do not need to be married to know something of love and matters of the heart,” Elrohir pointed out. “We have both faced rejection and heartache.”
“She has not rejected me!”
“And Elrohir has more than a passing affection for a certain maiden from Imladris,” Elladan added.
“Taniquel is just a friend,” Elrohir protested with a smile.
“You see? Her name comes instantly to his mind!”
Arathorn shook his head again. “Stop – please,” he begged. “Very well. I do want your help – I value your advice and trust your judgement. How do I win her father’s approval?”
Elladan shrugged. “You could just elope with her,” he suggested.
“It may well come to that,” Arathorn agreed darkly. “But if we do, I will lose Ivorwen’s support as well. She at least favours me!”
Elladan and Elrohir exchanged a look of amazement and exasperation. “Wait a moment …”
“ … say that again.”
“Her mother favours this match?”
“Why did you not tell us this before?”
Arathorn shrugged. “What is the point? Yes, Ivorwen favours me. She says if we wed now, hope will come of our union. But Dírhael does not, and it is his consent we need.”
Elrohir sighed. “But Arathorn – if Ivorwen is in favour, your battle is already won! Dírhael will agree before he knows it.”
Elladan nodded. “Our mother could persuade father to do anything at all – and make him think it was his own idea. As for Arwen, I pity whoever she marries. She will mould him like clay, and he will never even notice. But did your mother not do the same?”
“She died when I was only young. I never really noticed. But do you honestly think Ivorwen can help?”
“Believe me, your troubles are over. Journey north, and ask Dírhael for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He will be only too ready to agree!”
Arathorn began to smile. “I will. Will you come to the wedding?”
“Of course we will …”
“… wild wargs could not keep us away! And in turn, you must make sure Gilraen comes to Imladris one day.”
Arathorn nodded. “I will. You can be certain of it!”
Butterbur returned to their table just then, silently setting three fresh mugs of ale down in front of them. He left again without saying a word. Elladan raised an eyebrow at his retreating back, then shrugged and nudged Elrohir. They raised their mugs together.
“To Arathorn and Gilraen!”
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