Priceless Treasure

Chapter 10

by Cassia and Siobhan

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I didn’t know that it was so cold and
You needed someone to show you the way.
So I took your hand and we figured out that
When the time comes I’ll take you away.
If you want to,
I can save you
I can take you away from here...
So lonely inside,
So busy out there
And all you wanted was somebody who cares.

I’m sinking slowly,
So hurry hold me
Your hand is all I have to keep me holding on...

--Michele Branch

...80 years before...

"Father the storm’s getting worse!" Elrohir called above the howl of the wind, shouting to be heard, even though his father rode less than half a stone’s throw away on his right.

Snow was blowing everywhere, driven by the fury of the gale-force winds sweeping over the flat countryside. Elladan and Elrohir both had the hoods of their cloaks pulled far down over their heads, attempting to shield their eyes against the driving snow and wind, but with little success. The cold was biting and chilled even their elven bodies to the bone.

Elrond nodded silently, his own hood pulled low and held in place by one gloved hand, while the other rested soothingly on the neck of his horse, who liked the storm even less than the elves did. Through the blinding snow he could barely even see the outline of the animal’s coal black head and ears. In this driving wind and whiteness, not even his elven eyes could help him much.

They were not yet even a quarter of the way back to Rivendell and in this blizzard that was a target too far off to hope for.

"The horses won’t take much more of this," he shook his head, returning his sons’ gazes steadily. "They have not our endurance for this biting cold. Over there is a thicket of trees. They may break the wind a little. We must try to shelter there until things improve. The storm cannot maintain this kind of fury forever." The elf lord pointed to a wavering black blur just at the edge of their vision and all three of them rode towards it.

As Elrond had said, once they were underneath the sheltering boughs of the pine trees still arrayed in waving, tossing green despite the bitter cold, some of the wind's fury was buffered by the many thick trunks, boughs and pine needles, although their position was still far from comfortable or safe.

The three elves dismounted and unrolled the blankets strapped behind them like saddlebags across their mounts. Covering the horses, who were shivering obviously now, the elves spoke soft words of comfort and warmth into the animals’ ears, which did actually seem to help them a little.

Elladan clenched his fingers tightly in his horse’s mane, his already pale knuckles going even whiter. "Sending us back out into this blizzard like wayward beggars at his doors..." he murmured, his anger hot enough to warm him despite the snow. "Does that man want to kill us all?"

Elrond laid a gentle hand on his son’s tense shoulder. Truly, if Mannyn had been anywhere near a decent man or at least a decent host, he would have invited the guests to stay rather than forcing them to attempt the homeward journey in this weather, but the elf Lord had expected no better from the man and was not overly surprised.

Elladan pulled away roughly, huddling closer to his horse and burying his face against its neck. "I’d like to kill him!" he vented his muffled rage into the animal’s soft coat, ashamed of his own words as he said them, but burning up inside with so much anger, hurt and fear that he could not hold them back. "I’d like to throttle him until he chokes! And he’d deserve it!" Elladan shook with broken rage, refusing to look into his father’s face and see what he knew would be there. "It is his own fault that his son is dead! Not Estel’s!" The wind howled around them, even under the shelter of the trees its sharp bite took their breath away.

Elladan clenched his eyes tighter shut. Somewhere, out there, was Estel, with a cruel man whom Legolas had all but said was mistreating him. If the three elves were nearly freezing to death out here... what must be happening to his human brother?

"Hating Mannyn won’t lessen the storm or bring Estel back to us." The words were soft and sad, and Elrond had rightly pegged the true reason for Elladan’s anger. He did not blame his son for feeling the way he did; it would be a lie to say he had not felt the same anger pass over him more than once when talking with Mannyn, but carrying that kind of hate only hurt the bearer and he did not want that for his son. Especially if... if something had happened to Estel.

Elrohir watched them quietly, but said nothing. His own heart was too heavy, although his sadness went quicker to grief than to the anger that his brother’s did.

Turning the younger elf around to face him, Elrond softly pried Elladan’s fingers free of the horse’s mane. He could feel the frozen chill of his son’s bare hands through his gloves. "Elladan, where are your gloves?" he asked somewhat sternly. Frostbite was not a problem they needed.

Elladan shrugged indifferently, looking away and still refusing to meet his father’s eyes. "I don’t know. I may have forgotten to bring them, or left them at Mannyn’s house. I don’t remember."

Elrond sighed. Elladan had to be truly disturbed to be that careless, for he was usually the more cautious of the twins. Pulling his own gloves off, Elrond placed them into his son’s hand and closed Elladan’s fingers around them. "You have a right to be angry. If any harm comes to Estel, I will be the first to wish those who caused it the slowest death Illuvatar saw fit to give them," the elf lord said quietly, leaning close so his son could hear him. "But when someone wrongs you, Elladan, you have a choice: you can let them sow anger and vengeance in your heart and so win a double victory over you, or you can take the truly difficult path and remain true to what you know is right, what is really in your heart, the wish for justice and not revenge." Elrond laid his hand gently over his son’s heart, his gaze willing the younger elf to look at him.

Elladan finally met his father’s eyes. "I know you are right. I’m sorry, I just..." he couldn’t finish.

"I know," Elrond pulled the younger elf close. "I know."

Elladan allowed his father to embrace him. He may have been older than the oldest trees in the glade around them in years, but sometimes he still felt very young. Thus was the natural oddity of elves, eternally old, perpetually young.

Elrohir held back, standing beside the horses and not wishing to interrupt, but Elrond saw his red-rimed eyes, although the absolute cold around them would have frozen tears before they could fall. He knew how much the twins loved their younger brother, and he understood their helpless pain all too well. Still holding Elladan gently with one arm, Elrond opened the other and beckoned for the younger of his twins to come to him as well. Although they looked most like their father, Elrond continually saw so much of their mother in them, so much sometimes that it pained his heart at her memory. She had always carried her feelings near the surface, even as his sons seemed to, with a heart big enough to care and grieve for all of Middle-earth it seemed, but with a love so encompassing as to heal all its hurts as well. He missed her. Someday he would follow her over the sea and see her in happier times, but he knew that that would not be his path for many, many years yet.

Elrohir accepted his father’s invitation and for several long moments they remained thus, drawing comfort from one another. Elrond held his sons’ shoulders gently, wishing them the solace he himself could not find. The fear that they would never see Estel again weighed heavily on his heart, bringing home once again just how much the young human truly had become a part of their family. Comfort he could give his sons, yet none he had for himself, but Elrond was deep and hard to read unless one looked closely into the depths of his eyes. Only in those ageless and yet ancient windows of his soul could be caught a glimpse of what was really in his heart.

All was silent for a few moments, for the wind had abated somewhat. Suddenly Elrond’s head, which had fallen to rest on the top of his sons’ heads, came up. Far away, as if in a memory or a dream, he thought he had heard something. Something out of place in the middle of this snow-covered desolation.

Elladan and Elrohir looked at him questioningly, but the elf lord placed his fingers to his lips in a request for silence, so they all stood listening intently.

There, they heard it, all of them this time. A faint, sweet sound, like a lone bird singing a soft, sad and slightly desperate song amid the ravages of the winter world... yet it was no bird, for there were words in the snatches of tune brought to their keen elven ears on the wind. Elvish words.

"It’s Legolas!" Elrohir recognized the voice first. "That’s Legolas’ voice, I’m almost sure of it!"

Elrond nodded once, immediately making his way back to his horse. "It is, and he is close. We must find him." They would have gone searching for the prince on his own account, but unspoken between them was the hope, however faint, that if they found Legolas, Aragorn might also be with him.

Once they left the shelter of the trees, the storm slammed into them full force again, but they battled its clutches, straining to trace the faint, broken wisps of song carried on the raging winds.

Elrond’s face was grim as they changed direction for the sixth time. Legolas’ song was getting closer and easier to hear, but it was faltering more frequently now and he read in it a weariness that should not have belonged to an elf. "We must hurry," he urged his sons and their mounts. "Or I fear we shall come there too late."

I’m sinking slowly,
So hurry hold me
Your hand is all I have to keep me holding on...

Legolas shivered uncontrollably, clutching Aragorn tightly to his chest and trying to give whatever warmth he had left to the ranger as the snow piled up around them. The rock ledge at their back was precious little protection and the drifts were creeping higher and closer. Night was fast approaching and the temperature would only keep going down. They would never survive until dawn.

Legolas knew they should probably move again, should try to find better shelter... but he was too weary now and too unfamiliar with the land. He felt completely drained and didn’t know if he could carry Aragorn any further, and even if he could, where would they go?

So much of Legolas’ strength was going towards the violently shivering, nearly unresponsive young man clutched tightly in his arms that the elf barely even realized that his own body was freezing and slowly beginning to succumb to the bitter, bitter cold. And if he did notice, he did not seem to care. Either they made it out of here together, or neither of them did.

He kept singing because as long as he did, he could feel Aragorn holding on. Gripping the young man’s hand as tightly as his own frozen fingers allowed, Legolas provided the human with the only lifeline he had to offer, the only anchor that was still holding Aragorn’s spirit from flying away beyond reach on the wings of the merciless wind. Unfortunately, Legolas knew he could not hold onto his friend by the force of his will forever. Yet while there was a breath of life left in his body, he would try.

His song became barely a frozen whisper, a sad lament for summer long gone, perhaps never to return. The tune was still sweet and clear, but the words began to stutter as the elf prince’s frozen lips became heavier and harder to move.

The cold wanted him. It wanted them both. Like a ravening beast it sought them, but Legolas still fought it, fought it for both of them. He forced himself to sing around frostbit lips and hurting throat, parched and frozen from the harsh dry air... because somehow he knew that when he stopped, they would both die.

He sang until his voice failed him and the freezing cold at last reached his heart. Legolas sank forward slowly, unable to fight anymore on his own. Bowing his head over Aragorn’s, and resting his cheek against the top of the ranger’s head, Legolas closed his eyes. His strength was gone and there was nothing now between either he or Aragorn and the deathly cold that waited for them.


Away to the west, Elrond and his sons froze in heart-stopping alarm as they heard the song falter and die, ripped away by the merciless wind.