Light and Shadow
The shadow will not claim her forever...
Trembling fingers trailed the pale jaw line. The hollow eyes were closed, the light in the singing orbs long gone. Dead.
We shall not lose her after gaining her back...
The chamber was hushed in silence. In the solemn heaviness that hung about the room, not a single elf stirred. All eyes were riveted onto the frail body that lay under the white blankets. And the trembling finger that caressed the shrunken face.
How difficult it was, to draw in a deep breath, and let it out. And draw it again, and let it out. How painful, to feel the contracting of the heart. How easy it was to simply close one's eyes and bow one's head, and cease the labors of the lungs. To lay down one's head and sleep eternally, in the arms of this withering beauty.
Dark eyes slowly opened, a thick trembling sheen glossing over the hollow orbs. He slowly reached out, and grasped the frail white shadow of what had once been a smooth hand. The dry skin wrinkled under his touch.
Do not slip away...
She was a ghost. The body that had been returned to them was no more than a mere shadow of what once had been, a hollow and mutilated mass of broken flesh. No more laughter survived; no more light shone from those eyes. The pale blond hair fell away from the tender head at the slightest touch; it was whitened and rough, nothing more than a coarse and withered broom. The broken body had been returned to its perfect form; the many fervent days and nights devoted by the mightiest healer in the land had worked their miracles. But under the smoothened skin, the restless soul lingered hauntingly on the brink of the Gate, pale and still as death.
Elrond slowly bowed his head. Dark masses of hair fell limply around his shoulders. The screams, the cries of anguish, the fevered wails – all of the nightmares came crashing against his mind, drowning him in a deafening silence. The air was thick, suffocating.
A soft voice broke him out of his nightmares. Yes, the children. The children kept him from slipping away with his beloved, from joining her in her wandering journeys through the darkness. Their large, innocent eyes that searched into his soul. Elrond raised his head and looked toward the two pairs of dark eyes that looked toward him with anxiety.
"She will recover, won't she?" The whisper was breathed with hesitant fear.
Elrond straightened himself. Pushing the stray strands of hair back behind his ears, he calmly smiled at the twins standing by the door. The two blooming children, no longer elflings, but not yet adolescents. They had returned her to him, these two children, and now they seemed too afraid to move any closer.
"Yes, Elrohir. She will recover."
The innocent eyes then sparkled with relief. The twins finally moved toward the bedside. Elrond watched as they came to stand beside him. Their heads barely reached his chest. Barely. They were too young for this. Too young. His heart constricted painfully once again; air struggled to pass through his lungs. He swallowed hard.
The breathing of the pallid shadow was shallow. The chest rose and fell in miniscule movements, the body seemingly frozen in the grip of time. Elrond clasped her hand tight, and willed his lungs to labor. Breathe in, and breathe out. And breathe in again.
The whisper of the child dissolved into the heavy air. Elladan brought his lips close to his mother's ear. Soft dark hair fell against his forehead as he lowered his lids mournfully. "Wake up, Nana." A thin glaze shone in his eyes as he fingered the motionless hand. "We are here. You're safe. Wake up."
Cracking the tense silence, the father shifted. He moved deliberately toward the window, closing the glass just enough for a thin draft of wind to blow in. The light was fading; evening was settling around them.
"Go and eat dinner, you two. It is past mealtime." His voice was nonchalant as he lit a candle. His eyes were focused on the candle as his fingers carefully brought the fire to life. The bright flicker of gold lit in his eyes a lucid golden light.
The twins did not protest against the quiet instructions. They reluctantly withdrew from the bed and, casting long glances toward their mother, left the room.
Slowly returning to the bedside, Elrond seated himself by the silent body. Sitting alone by the motionless figure, he reached out once more to tenderly caress the limp hand. His head slowly bowed as he brought the hand up to his lips. And he did not move.
Illuminated by flickering candlelight, the figure remained still as the gold luminance cast a desolate shadow about the room. And amid the silence of the evening, a cricket began to sing. Sadly, sadly – to the lone shadow that did not move from its place of vigil.
The tension in the air was almost tangible. The thick silence was only broken by the occasional tinkling of silverware. But as the silverware moved sluggishly, food seemed to find it impossible to disappear from their respective plates. The morose quietude was only enhanced by the gray fading of the light.
Standing at the entrance of the dining hall, Erestor creased his brows unhappily, hands on his hips. The two elflings sitting opposite of each other on the small square table were moving their silverware with mechanical slowness, heads bowed. Their plates remained untouched as silverware hovered over them, occasionally hitting them gingerly.
With a growl, Erestor strode into the dining hall. "What are you two doing in this dark?" he demanded, briskly moving around to light the candles in the hall. "Your food is there for you to eat, not stare at! Do you think starving yourselves will make your mother happy when she wakes?"
The elflings looked up and blinked, as bright light multiplied about the room. Soon the entire hall was bathed in a warm glow of gold. Satisfied, Erestor approached and stood by the table, looking from one elfling to another.
"When will she wake up, Erestor?" Elladan's voice was hushed, hoarse. Afraid.
Erestor bent down and wrapped his fingers deliberately around both of the elfings' hands, which loosely held unused spoons. "She will wake up when she is ready," he said, scooping up the cooling food and bringing the small hands toward their mouths. "Now open your mouths, if you don't want me to spoon-feed you through the course of the entire meal."
Before they knew what was happening, their mouths opened automatically and food came rushing in. Then the warm fingers fell away from their small hands. "Eat," urged the now-softened voice, and the slender figure of the elf moved away. The twins looked up in sudden panic as the jet-black hair disappeared out the door.
Before Elrohir could finish calling the name, the advisor reappeared with a chair. "These kitchen elves are too diligent," he mumbled as he put the chair down before them, seating himself on the third side of the square table. The small table suddenly seemed fuller, more animate. "They clear away every chair and plate as soon as they think everyone else is finished."
At this, the twins gave a small smile. "But they did cook for us when we said we missed dinner," said Elrohir, in a soft tone. Erestor rested his chin on top of propped up hands.
"And that special effort of the cook is getting cold. Eat." He nonchalantly dug the idle spoons into the food again, leaving them full. With helpless smiles, the twins raised their limp arms and brought the spoons slowly to their mouths once more. Erestor watched in silence.
As the twins slowly continued their eating, one of them raised his gaze and looked questioningly at the advisor. "When will Ada eat?"
Erestor looked down at the elfling's plate, and reached out to wrap the small hand once more around the spoon. "He has already eaten. Eat, little elf."
The twins once more ducked their heads and resumed the dining, their spirits slightly lifted with the company. Erestor's slender body stood between them and the present terror, his glowing eyes and brisk tongue shielding them from the reality of what lay beyond the dining hall. Minds no longer wandering far, the twins ate on.
Erestor's eyes were fixed upon them both, when he heard distant footsteps approaching. He raised his eyes inconspicuously, unmoving. The twins were now eating slowly but surely, chewing and swallowing with painful effort. They did not notice the appearance of an elf at the entrance of the dining hall.
The elf stopped. Erestor was watching him, for he was facing the entrance, but the side views of the twins showed them to be unaware of his presence. The young elf moved his lips and motioned for Erestor to come out of the dining room. He held a bundle of scrolls in his hand; no doubt he sought the advisor's attention about some local affairs, with the lord of the valley so occupied. However, Erestor glanced down at the slowly nibbling elflings and shook his head. He remained as he was, chin resting unceremoniously upon propped up hands, and did not move. The young elf begged silently once again, but when he was met with an impassive stare from those black orbs, he knew that further effort would be futile. With a resigned sigh, he bowed in acquiescence, and disappeared from view.
The advisor looked questioningly toward Elladan, who was chewing a small amount of food with great difficulty. He swallowed hard several times, before finally finding the voice to speak again.
"When do you think Nana will be ready?"
The black-haired elf smiled tenderly. "Think you that she will not wake soon enough, when she has children such as yourselves waiting?" He reached out and stroked the soft dark heads of the two elflings. "Worry not, little ones. Your father will restore her to health in no time."
An encouraged smile slowly seeped from the small faces. A sparkle seemed to return to their drooping eyes. Erestor nonchalantly picked up their spoons again, scooping another spoonful of food. "Must I spoon-feed you?"
Inconspicuous smiles restored, the elflings squealed in soft protest. Erestor's quiet laughter filled the hollow dining room as the elflings busied themselves with their late evening meal.