A Father's Choice
The valley was beautiful, as always. Gentle sunlight rested on the window, warming the chamber in a mild comfort. But the hearts in the room were distant from the warmth offered by the sun.
He looked up from the quiet breaths of the child, and faced the motionless figure by the window.
"You had him sleep all this way?"
A slow nod. He sighed.
He had felt him coming. He had felt the whispers of the trees, the vibrant breaths spreading against the green waves. The figure that now stood before him had galloped without stopping, praying and cursing and threatening the Valar, urging his horse to go faster. Racing against the wind, teeth clenched and eyes burning. And he had galloped out to meet him.
No words had been exchanged when they met. He knew what happened. He had seen it. A bit too late, as usual. He was always too late.
And Glorfindel had grabbed his trembling arms and stared him in the eye, wordlessly, as his knees almost gave out under his weight. Never too late, he had whispered fiercely. Never too late.
Ah, how wrong he was, for once.
"You know why I come."
He had nodded mutely as the intense blue eyes looked into his, desperate, threatening, pleading. And he had taken the motionless child into his arms, had carried him to the healing ward, as his twin sons flanked him in silence. And he had sat by him since, watching the elfling's quiet breathing, telling himself lies.
"Do not play with me."
It had happened so fast. Even if it had not, he would not have moved to block the rough hands that pressed him into a deadly grip against the wall. And he knew it. He could not deceive a father's heart.
"You know I do not come to place blames."
Ah, he knew, he knew. And how much easier it would be, to accept the blame, to beg for forgiveness. To let them believe that it was his fault and things could mend from there.
He had been telling lies. And Thranduil was no fool.
And so here he was, seated, silent, motionless, as his companion looked out the window, back turned toward him. Elrond sighed quietly.
"I can repair the wounds, Thranduil. But I cannot take away the memories – I cannot undo what had been done."
Ah, what clear eyes the child had had. The crystalline blue that had sparkled with vivacious laughter only a month ago. Now cursed to be forever clouded.
Thranduil suddenly turned, gaze resolute. He was eying his child intensely as he stepped closer.
"I have heard of a great healing magic of yore...that erases memories from one's mind."
Elrond's head shot up. Dark orbs clashed with pale blue. The elvenlord clenched his teeth. How did Thranduil know?
Ah, but he had forgotten. Thranduil was a father. And he made it his affair to know, for his child was aspiring to be a healer. Of course he would keep himself knowledgeable concerning ancient tales and rumored lore. And that was what he had clung to, as he galloped in the eye of a gale, his steed's hooves thundering against the dust.
A tense breath was released into the air.
"You tread on thin ice, Thranduil."
The elvenking's eyes glittered nonetheless. "Do it, Elrond."
Elrond abruptly rose, robes swirling about his feet as he turned away from the bed and briskly moved to the window. He needed some air.
Snapping the window wide open, he breathed deeply into the scent of the trees. His head was spinning. He had not rested since the child had arrived. But he knew that the reason lay elsewhere. There had been no physical injuries to heal.
Exhaling deeply, he turned and faced the king. Dark gazes met and sparred in the air.
"The dangers of mental rupture increase by age." He glanced down at the elfling, who was sleeping peacefully on the bed. "If he had been a bit younger...you must consider the risk, Thranduil."
The king slowly approached. His gaze burned into Elrond's. The lord of the valley sucked in his breath.
"Even if I succeed, his memory might resurface in the future if triggered enough."
Elrond pressed his fingers against the glass window. Knuckles were whitening as Thranduil stepped closer, closer.
Suddenly, the menacing aura in the king seemed to break. Turning away, he looked toward his motionless son.
"If it had happened to me," he whispered, voice steady and low, "I would have struggled to overcome, to live on through the nightmares." A rueful smile appeared at his lips as he roughly shoved back a stray strand of hair behind his shoulder. "Just another challenge to overcome, I would have told myself."
He turned back to Elrond. The elvenlord swallowed as he watched the haunting light that trembled in those glazed eyes. The fiercest warrior in the land, Prince Thranduil, collapsing before his child.
"But as a father, I cannot let my child live with this scar." He came closer and faltered, helpless, lost. His whisper was a plea. "I cannot fail him again."
Elrond held his breath.
He would have done anything to save Celebrian from her torment. He would have placed himself between her and her nightmares, if possible. But she had not allowed it. A pain greater than that of physical agony was that of watching another's suffering. And being helpless to relieve the pain. Knowing that one could have saved that person from the torment.
But was it worth the risk?
The decision lay in the father. And Thranduil had made his choice.
"Help me, Elrond," pleaded the king, his pale eyes forlorn. "Help me protect my child."
With a defeated sigh, Elrond closed his eyes.
He was a father also. And he knew he could not win.
Elrond creased his brows, concentration marring his smooth forehead. Heat and light emanated from his body as he remained motionless by the elfling's bed. Some space behind him were his sons, fully grown; they were standing on either side of the room as if guarding the occupants from an invisible enemy. Thranduil stood on the other side of the bed, silent, vehement.
It had been too long. Elrond slowly bit his lip, shutting his eyes tighter. Too long since he had last performed this operation. He opened his eyes again, clearing them into focus as practiced hands brushed against the elfling's pale skin. His lips moved in a silent and relentless murmur.
Beside the elvenlord lay ewers of potion and pouches of ground herbs. A cool basin of water lay nearby, and Elrohir occasionally approached his father to gently wipe the sweat off of his brow with a damp cloth.
Closing his eyes once again, Elrond's mind probed deeper, deeper into the elfling's abyss of memory. Something was clouding it. Some unpleasant fog, a device set up to shield the child from the memories. He gently waded through it, tentatively groping his way in the darkness.
There. There it was. The shield.
He clenched his teeth as he fought against the fierce barrier of the child's mind. Open for me.
Elrond had tried to pass this gate years ago, when this boy was still a babe. When he had encountered his first orcs in Mirkwood. And he had failed miserably. Now, it loomed before him, eerily silent. No screams of anguish could be heard from the other side. He could not tell what the child was dreaming about. Perhaps he was not dreaming at all. But this was hardly the case, for invisible dreams always lurked on the other side, if silent. And without knowledge of what lay beyond that wall, Elrond was lost.
Tentatively, he began to call once again. Bidding the youth to let him enter, to trust him with his innermost secrets.
An unconscious sigh of relief escaped his lips as the gate yielded.
Gently pressing himself inside, he looked around, comforting the tense darkness as he took in his surroundings. The silence was apprehensive, waiting for him to make a move – it was a phenomenal improvement from the last time, of course, for the child's mind recognized Elrond and trusted him to probe deep within. But how far he would be allowed to go, Elrond did not know.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark, Elrond's eyes widened in silent horror.
In the darkness was a small bed, placed against the wall of a modest cabin. On the bed sat a wide-eyed elfling, staring curiously at a man who sat a bit away. The man's dark head was bowed as his hand busily sketched away on his canvas. He raised his head, and gave instructions to the child. The elfling nodded, and began to unlace his tunic.
Elrond's hands clenched and unclenched uneasily, as he commanded his feet to be still, his throat to be silent. And the elfling continued to undress himself until he was wearing nothing but his smooth white skin, and draped a thin blanket around himself. His round shoulders gleamed in the flickering candlelight as the man stared hungrily, eye running down from prominent collarbones to the chest that disappeared into the blanket, and the thighs that reappeared from underneath the blanket. The child turned an innocent gaze toward the man, and the man swallowed, nodding and smiling forcefully. His trembling hands began to draw. And the elfling remained still, bared neck craned forward, hair spilling over his shoulder and onto the sheets, eyelashes lowered – while the man's lustful gaze devoured his features, the innocent body that was so suggestively, tantalizingly laid before him.
The darkness repeated this scene over and over, and Elrond knew that the elfling was trying to understand. He could not understand why the man had looked at him so, had commanded him to undress himself. He could not understand the obsession. And soon, Elrond was hearing words, lustful words that slithered around the darkness. Words that were said to the child, words that the child could not comprehend. And words that would haunt him until he grew old enough to understand – and be broken with the trauma.
Fiercely stilling the trembling hands that wanted to fly up to his ears, Elrond raised his arms, beginning to concentrate on the surge of magic that remained at his fingertips. He had spent much magic just to travel this far; it was doubtful whether he was even strong enough to perform this operation, and retaining enough energy to safely pull out of this forbidden chamber was out of the question. This spell was not taboo without a reason.
But then again, Elrond was the not most powerful healer in the land without a reason either.
As the magic intensified around him, he looked around, and found that he had managed to still the replays of the images. The darkness groaned and tossed; it did not approve of Elrond's manipulation of its psyche. Elrond gritted his teeth. Legolas was young, but not young enough to be untouched. His subconscious mind was beginning to reject Elrond's ministrations, as familiar as it was with the elvenlord. Just like years ago.
But this time, he could not afford to fail. Not now, when he had come this far. Thranduil would not be able to save the elfling this time.
Coaxing and soothing, Elrond continued to gently warp the images and bury them into the darkness, all the while giving reassurances to the uneasy darkness that breathed heavily upon him. And finally, when the scenes were completely gone, he dropped his arms.
He was not finished. Something was wrong.
From the darkness, a scene slowly materialized. The elfling was lying on the bed, sleeping soundly in broad daylight. The sun was tilting obliquely toward the west. And the man approached, stripping himself of his worn clothing, and climbed onto the bed. And he towered over the elfling, on his hands and knees, and began to unlace the child's tunic. And the child did not wake.
Elrond's hands froze.
As the man roughly peeled the tunic off of the child's shoulders and pushed it underneath his soft arms, pinioning them, the child began to move groggily. His eyes slowly opened, and he tried to speak, but his movements were easily stilled with the weight of the man who was busy feeling the skin underneath. The child seemed to sense something amiss, for he continued to squirm, eyes hazy with grogginess.
So this was it. This was the key.
Elrond raised his weary arms once again with newfound determination, and began to focus his energy once again. Desperation underlined his fevered murmurs as he pooled his power; he was racing against time. The elfling was now halfway conscious, struggling weakly against the dominant strength of the man.
Elrond's chant suddenly halted. Time stopped still.
Tentatively, the lore master took a step forward. The man remained where he was, hands on the elfling's chest and thigh, eyes on the smooth stomach. The child also remained still, half-lidded eyes staring blankly at the looming figure above him, body writhing in a feeble protest. Elrond briskly walked forward.
As he neared the small interior of the cabin, he felt his body being pushed backward. He persisted, this time using stern words to make the darkness yield.
The child slowly shifted, and fell into a limp sleep.
Elrond clenched his teeth as he once again felt a barrier, blocking him from going further. His eyes burned as he fought against the fierce protection. Open for me.
At last, the shadow relented. Elrond reached the forbidden sanctuary, and lay his hands upon the man's. He removed them from the elfling's skin, and swiftly removed the rest of the body away from the child. The man now lay on the floor in the same awkward position, frozen still in his lustful state, as the elfling slumbered on.
Elrond finally relaxed his tight control upon the sinuous dark walls. They broke loose, and instantly covered the sleeping child protectively, hiding him away into its depths. And the darkness continued to pour, devouring the man on the floor as well as the interior of the cabin itself. When certain that all of the images were safely buried in the darkness, Elrond began to release his magic without hesitation. Soon, the darkness was swarming all around him, swallowing the hollow caverns of the space where he stood, following his motions obediently, as if mesmerized. And Elrond continued to step backwards slowly, directing the darkness to follow, until he once again stood at the threshold. With sudden ferocity, he pushed the darkness back to where it was. And hastily exited.
Elladan clutched his father's shoulders and gently drew his head back, his dark hair falling over his shoulders, as Elrond raised his head and drew in a painful breath as if he had been long submerged in water. The silence of the room was broken.
Elrond almost collapsed onto his son's body as Elladan sank to his knees, arms wrapped around his father's back supportively. Elrohir drenched the cloth in the cool water and wiped the elvenlord's fevered brows. The intense light that had enveloped the lore master during the long hour of rigid silence was beginning to fade.
Thranduil's eyes bore into Elrond's as the elvenlord raised his head wearily. Elrond let out a weak smile.
"He will be well."
And letting out the painful breath that he had been holding, Thranduil bowed his head in silence.