Changing History: Choices

Chapter 7

A/N: So, I've used quite a bit of Sindarin in this chapter (and one word of Quenya as well); the translations can be found in a note at the bottom of the chapter. I tried to embed hover text, but I couldn't get it to work on this platform. If anyone has any ideas, please feel free to let me know :) Enjoy!

Chapter 7

As it turned out, Mel wasn't able to see Lord Elrond until the next day. But when she finally told him what had happened, and what Rod and Birch had said about the Yavannacor, the elven lord was nearly beside himself with enthusiasm. It was quickly decided that they should meet daily in one of the smaller gardens.

"Perhaps, surrounded by the source of the ring's power, we can discover the limits and strengths of its magic," Lord Elrond said, "This could be the key that unlocks the way home for you, Mel."

Once the elven lord took his leave of her, Mel didn't particularly know what to do with herself. She had a whole day stretching before her and nothing to fill it. The only thing she knew to do was to return to the small library, maybe play with Birch and allow Rod some (mostly likely well-deserved) time off.

That was how she found the twins.

Her pathetic attempt to memorize the map of Imladris had apparently been for nothing whatsoever. Within five minutes Mel was pretty sure she was lost. Within seven she was completely sure she was lost. Within ten she was beginning to wonder if she was ever going to find her way out of the labyrinth she had lost herself in. Even her attempts to backtrack only succeeded in getting her more turned around. Finally, Mel had only one goal: find the sun. If she could only get outside it was still early enough that she would at least be able to determine her cardinal directions, and from there might at least be able to reorient herself for a new navigational attempt.

So the first flash of sunlight she spotted, she followed, like a moth to flame. The faint sounds of metal striking metal didn't really register with her until she stepped out of the hall and into the sunshine. She blinked, and almost immediately shrank back into the shadow of the doorway.

She had stumbled into a courtyard, which opened up into a lush carpet of green grass, surrounded on all sides by large trees. In the center of this smooth green arena two elves crossed swords, slipping and spinning around each other so gracefully that Mel might have mistaken it for dancing except for the flash and clang of metal. They moved together and then broke apart, circling each other carefully.

"I don't know why you bother, Elrohir," One elf taunted, "I've proven myself your better on more than one occasion."

"Ci ben-ind?" the other shot back, and though Mel didn't know the words she could tell they were spoken in a playful tone, "Day before yesterday you yielded to me twice!"

They stepped together and the first elf swung his sword in a graceful arc, but the other spun out of reach, his own sword flashing out almost faster than Mel's eyes could follow. It was met with a clang of metal as the first elf blocked and swung again. Back and forth they went, brown hair and red robes swirling together in an indistinguishable tangle.

Mel took advantage of their distraction and slipped across the open space, hiding under the shadow of one of the trees that bordered their sparring ground. She could no longer tell which elf was which. The two were nearly identical, and at the speed they were moving it was impossible to distinguish one from the other. Her mind raced, certain that she had heard something, something one of them had said, something important…

I don't know why you bother, Elrohir…

Elrohir… and Elladan…

One of the sons of Elrond grunted and the other swung his sword high, forcing his brother to duck, missing the sharp edge by scant inches. But the attacker followed through, whirling in a complete graceful turn and smacking his brother's backside with the flat of his sword.

"Hah!" he cried as his opponent stumbled, "Lasto i lalaith nîn, hanar! Ha ha!"

"Nan aear ar in elin…" the other grumbled, already dropped into a crouch facing his brother, "Elladan, stop showing off; it's not attractive. Ú-istol te tíren men?"

"Iston," Elladan said, smirking, "Ista peded edhellen?"

"Den ú-iston." Elrohir answered, shrugging.

Listening to the language flowing off their tongues (what she could only assume was some form of elvish, though it sounded very different from what she had taught herself back home) was nearly as hypnotizing as watching the two brothers circle one another, gliding over the bright green grass. It made it all the more jarring when Elladan suddenly straightened out of his crouch, turned… and looked directly at her.

"Suil!" he called, raising a hand to her, a wide smile on his smooth face, "Istol peded edhellen?"

Mel felt like a small animal, frozen in a pair of headlights barreling down the highway. She didn't know what to do. Should she come out? Should she run? Was he expecting an answer?

Elladan waited a moment and then turned back to his brother and shrugged.

"Apparently not." He said, smoothly transitioning back into a language that Mel could understand.

Elrohir rolled his eyes and straightened out of his own crouch, sheathing his sword.

"Pe-channas…" he muttered as he stepped past his brother, pushing him aside with one hand and sketching a small bow in Mel's direction with the other.

"Please, forgive my brother's insolence," he said, "I think he must have skipped all our mother's many lessons on proper etiquette and good manners."

"Nîdh!" Elladan said, placing a hand to his chest and stumbling back one single, dramatic step, "Dearest brother, you wound me so!"

Elrohir rolled his eyes, but did not indulge his brother's antics with even a look in his direction.

"Im Elrohir," he said, placing a hand formally over his heart and slipping (almost thoughtlessly) into that elegant elvish tongue, "And this-"

He waved a hand behind him without actually looking back.

"-is my brother, Elladan. May I assume that we have the pleasure of addressing Melody Bernston, our father's honored guest?"

'Honored guest'? Mel wasn't sure how 'honored' she was. What was she supposed to say to that? She shrank back against the trunk of the tree, trying to think, and she felt the trunk shiver under her hands. The leaves rustled with the movement.

"Do not fear, Calenhiril," a man's deep, kindly voice murmured in her mind, "The sons of Elrond are friends of the forest. They will do you no harm."

"I'm not scared they'll hurt me…" Mel replied, "I'm scared of looking like a complete idiot."

"It's just Mel." She said finally, sounding much smaller and quieter than she had intended, "And I… I didn't mean to interrupt or… or intrude or anything. I'll just…"

As she spoke, she started to ease backward, toward the perceived safety of the open archway behind her.

"Now look what you've done, Elrohir!" Elladan exclaimed, shoving past his brother and waving a hand in Mel's direction, "You've frightened her off! I knew I shouldn't have let you speak, you always make a mess of it!"

"Nin?!" Elrohir exclaimed, "If any of us have frightened her it is undoubtedly you, brother. You've always been too heavy handed in these matters, if I could have approached her alone…"

"And allow you to color her opinion against me?" Elladan said, "Never!"

The argument quickly devolved into incomprehensible elvish after that and Mel watched, strangely fascinated, as the brothers bickered. It was like watching a tennis match, back and forth, back and forth, effortless with years of practice, and always colored by a good-natured fondness. After a moment, the elves seemed to realize that she was actually still standing there and the argument came to an abrupt halt. They both regarded her with eyes that, like their father, were both playfully young and unfathomably old at the same time.

"Well," Elrohir said, crossing his arms and regarding her steadily, "It appears our little friend has not flown."

"Indeed she has not. No thanks to you, I am certain."

Elladan muttered this last bit under his breath, but before his brother could reply, he clasped his hands behind him and made a quick walk around her, skipping back and away when she tried to follow his movements.

"What are you doing?" Mel asked, not quite cheerful, not quite suspicious, clinging to the trunk of the tree that had somehow become her anchor.

"She might do well." Elladan said, "Given the proper training. Don't you think, brother?"

Elrohir sat back on his heels and studied her carefully, his arms still folded over his chest.

"Perhaps," He said, almost as if muttering to himself, "Yes, I think so."

"Do what?" Mel asked, her eyes flicking back and forth between the twins, "What training?"

They ignored her.

"It would certainly prove entertaining if nothing else." Elladan said, having returned to his brother's side, almost vibrating with barely contained exuberance, "And really, if we don't take it upon ourselves, someone else will undoubtedly come along and botch it up in our place."

"Oh undoubtedly." Elrohir agreed, continuing to regard her with that measuring gaze and a poorly concealed smirk.

"We'd be doing the world a service."

"Well, when you put it that way…"

"Excuse me!"

Elladan looked up as if he'd forgotten she was there and Elrohir merely raised an eyebrow. Mel glared at them, arms crossed, nearly tapping her foot in annoyance.

"Would either of you care to share what exactly you're both so excited about?" she asked, in what she had years ago taken to calling her 'twin-voice', the same tone she took with her sisters when they went off the rails and started talking too fast for the rest of the world to follow. Mel felt a wave of homesickness and shoved it away forcefully, concentrating on her glare.

Elladan and Elrohir paused, shared a look, and then grinned broadly at her.

"Oh yes…" Elladan said.

"…you'll do nicely." Elrohir finished.

And that was how Mel ended up with a sword in her hand, being poked and prodded into endless poses made all the more awkward by the fact that she was wearing a dress. The third time she tripped over her hemline, the twins threw up their hands in dual frustration.

"This won't do at all!" Elladan cried.

"What were you thinking wearing this atrocity for sword play?" Elrohir said, crouching beside her and plucking at her skirt in an almost disgusted manner.

Mel swatted his hand away and scrambled to her feet.

"I'd like to remind both of you that this wasn't my idea." She said, adjusting the grip of her sweaty palm on the sword.

"Well, if you'd like to discontinue…" Elrohir started.

"No!"

The twins exchanged a sly grin. Mel rolled her eyes, but she didn't take it back.

"Just… I need decent clothes, I get it. I'll be better prepared next time." She grumbled.

"Ah, so there will be a next time!" Elladan exclaimed happily, "Excellent!"

Elrohir rolled his eyes.

"I fear you may not be aware of what you have just agreed to, vinimë," he said fondly, "My brother is a bit… shall we say, enthusiastic when it comes to this sort of thing."

"He's trying to tell you that I am a relentless taskmaster with no soul and impossibly high expectations," Elladan said dryly, "He's not wrong, of course. Swordplay is hard work and you have much to learn. But you're nimble enough and you don't shy from the blade. With regular practice with a… ahem… incredibly talented teacher, you could be a passable sword-mistress in… oh, a couple hundred years or so."

Mel rolled her eyes.

"Are you trying to scare me off?" she asked, smirking, "Because you are way too late for that."

The twins exchanged pleased glances.

"I knew I liked her." Elladan said.

"I saw her first." Elrohir replied, examining his nails with a self-satisfied smirk.

"Guys," Mel said, effectively redirecting their attention, "I don't actually have a couple hundred years, so… you know… if we could get back to the matter at hand…"

"Right."

"Yes."

"Absolutely."

"You're standing all wrong…

"Move your right foot forward…"

The days began to fly by. Lord Elrond met Mel every morning, and together they walked among the trees and talked, both to each other and to the surrounding foliage. It became nearly commonplace for Mel, the voices in her head. She hadn't realized it, but she had been hearing them even before she had become aware of them, a constant murmur in the back of her mind. Elrond would often push her to listen to that chatter, to distinguish the voices and try to glean information from them. But all she had to do was to ask and it was soon clear that none of the trees she could reach had any more knowledge than Rod had as to the nature of her power, or the ring she possessed. Elrond was endlessly optimistic, but Mel was always left feeling more frustrated than when they'd begun.

But she was certainly never short of distraction. Ever since The Incident With The Spoons, Merry and Pippin seemed to have decided that Mel was 'alright, for one of the Big Folk' and as a result she found herself constantly chasing after them, attempting to keep them from bringing all of Rivendell down around their ears and prevent poor Lindir (whom she discovered was actually the steward of the house, and therefore, in charge) from having a nervous breakdown. She once attempted to apologize to the elf on the hobbits' behalf and he had replied, with a stoic expression:

"At least it isn't dwarves…"

Mel wasn't entirely sure what to make of that statement and so she'd said nothing.

Speaking of dwarves, Mel saw surprisingly little of the dwarves currently in residence in Rivendell. Despite Boromir's misgivings, Gimli didn't seem intent on doing anything more sinister than giving her suspicious looks from across the dining hall. It was unsettling, sure, but hardly anything to worry about, as Legolas took great pleasure in pointing out to her as often as possible.

"After all, what can he do?" the elf-prince asked, "Shout abuse and nip at your ankles?"

Mel was pretty sure Gimli was capable of a bit more than your average chihuahua, but so far he didn't seem interested in following through and so Mel was content to ignore him for the most part. It was a shame of course, but Mel had plenty of other things to think about. Elladan and Elrohir made sure of that.

No matter what she was doing or who she was with, without fail Mel was present at the sparring field every day at two o'clock. If, for whatever reason, she wasn't, Elladan inevitably hunted her down and dragged her away with eloquent apologies (that managed to contain a lot of words, but actually said very little) to whoever had managed to occupy her time. He hadn't been kidding when he'd described himself as a ruthless taskmaster. The elf did not believe in 'days off'. Day after day, hour after hour, they drilled, beating the fundamentals of swordplay into her mind and body until Mel felt like no amount of hot water would ever soak away the knots and bruises.

And just when she thought that she could take no more, Elrohir decided she should learn Sindarin. She'd only managed a few fascinated glances at some of the phrases the brothers had exchanged, but it seemed that was all it took. Elrohir had pounced on the opportunity like a well-bred tabby cat. He began shouting words and phrases at her, forcing her to repeat the Sindarin in rhythm with her sword drills, a steady cadence that took her mind off the struggle her body was making to keep up with Elladan's demanding training. It was only basic phrases, greetings, questions, farewells, and a few other words she happened to pick up along the way, but it was fascinating and enough to keep her coming back, pushing her through the worst of what Elladan's training put her through.

Rod was also happy to help with her Sindarin, once she was finally able to find him again. It took a few days, but Mel did manage to stumble her way back to the tiny library, and soon she was visiting so often that she was able to find it with no trouble at all. She played word games with Birch to help the young tree make connections with things that she had never seen before, letting an image play in her head and encouraging her young friend to associate it with whatever words she could come up with. Sometimes Mel would read aloud from one of the many books on the shelves, which was something that all three of them enjoyed. Most of the texts were written in Tengwar script, and many of them in some form of elvish, but there were a few written in a language that Mel could actually read, even if she had to stumble through some Tengwar. Most of the contents were fairly dry, but Birch liked listening to the spoken words and Rod would sigh contentedly every time Mel reached for one of the dusty old tomes. He was a plant of knowledge, and any knowledge (even dry, old records of people long-forgotten) would do.

And then there was Boromir. Some days they wouldn't even speak, only glimpse each other across a room or pass each other in a hallway, but it felt as if he had somehow insinuated himself into Mel's life. It gradually got easier to look at him and see the man, rather than the future. And the man was so much… more than that. He was polite and unfailingly kind. He spoke little, but his silences were never idle. When he did decide to speak, his words were always carefully chosen. And his eyes sparkled when he laughed, which he did much more often than Mel would have expected. Sometimes Mel caught herself staring at him, and she got the gut-wrenching feeling that she was watching a train wreck that hadn't happened yet. She always had to excuse herself and leave the room after that.

The days ran into weeks, a steady flow of time, unbroken, peaceful, and so long that Mel began to forget that there was anything else beyond Rivendell and the consistent order of her days. This of course made it all the more painful on the morning that everything shattered.

It had been getting colder every day, and Mel had taken to wrapping a shawl around her shoulders and wearing warmer woolen dresses on her walks in the garden with Lord Elrond, but the morning breeze still managed to nip at her nose and fingertips. She blew on her hands to warm them and watched the elven lord's brow furrow in deep concentration. His eyes were on her, studying her, but his mind was clearly somewhere else.

"Repeat this phrase," he said, and rattled off a string of jibberish that could have possibly been elvish once upon a time.

Mel rolled her shoulders under her shawl and repeated the phrase as best she could. The elf-lord waited a beat, and then passed his hand through the air between them. Nothing happened. His eyes narrowed and he shook his head.

"No… No, that isn't… Maybe in…"

He muttered to himself for a moment, and then spoke another phrase, this one in a guttural tongue that Mel vaguely recognized as an ancient dialect of Khuzdul, the language of the dwarves. Mel dutifully repeated it, as she had every phrase, spell, and expression in the countless languages Lord Elrond had thrown at her in the past few weeks. Mel was fairly certain that the elf must be consulting with Gandalf, because some of these languages were even older than Elrond.

They waited a moment, and then Elrond passed his hand through the air again. The creases in his brow deepened and for the first time Mel thought he looked old.

"Do you feel anything?" He asked, "Anything in the air or on your skin?"

Mel reached out a hand, her palm nearly, but not quite touching Elrond's own. She closed her eyes and waited for what felt like an eternity, but whatever she was supposed to be looking for wasn't there. She sighed and dropped her hand.

"Nothing."

"What about the trees? What do they say?"

Mel tugged the shawl closer about her and tilted her head to the side, listening.

"Not much." She answered, "They've been getting quieter lately."

Elrond let out a long sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"Yes, I was afraid of that." He murmured, almost to himself, "It is getting rather late."

"Late?" Mel asked, raising an eyebrow and trying to ignore the growing knot of unease in the pit of her stomach, "What are you talking about? We've barely gotten started."

"Not late in the day, Mel," Lord Elrond said, looking up and seeming to measure the effect his words had on her, "Late in the year. We are on the cusp of the winter solstice. We are also approaching the limits of my knowledge."

Mel felt the bottom fall out of her stomach. She swallowed and tried to keep down the breakfast that was threatening to come up her throat.

"What are you saying?"

Her voice sounded hollow in her ears.

Lord Elrond's face softened and his words were gentle, but it did not soften the blow.

"I'm saying that we need to consider the possibility that you might be with us longer than anticipated."

The air left Mel's lungs in a whoosh. Lord Elrond kept talking, but it was like he was speaking underwater.

I'm not giving up…

There are others who might…

Perhaps after the war …

This isn't the end…

I'm sorry…

But all she could hear, repeating on a loop in her mind was It's over… It's over… It's over…

And she couldn't stand there and listen to it anymore. She turned and she ran. Lord Elrond's voice followed her for a moment, but she soon outran it, though she couldn't outrun the voice in her head still chanting that terrible mantra.

Over… It's over… Lost and no way home…

She kept running, trying not to let tears blur her vision. She wouldn't cry. Not here at least. She needed… what did she need? Her mind was racing, thoughts stumbling over each other, things that she hadn't allowed herself to think about in so long. TV, heaters, A/C, cars, computers, her crappy job, her cellphone, her sisters, her idiot dad…

She ran and she ran, but she couldn't run fast enough or far enough. She was stuck. She was lost. She was never going home. She…

She wanted her mother.

It was a strange feeling. Mel loved her mom more than anything, but she had never really wanted her as much as she did right at that moment. She wanted someone to comfort her, to tell her everything was going to be alright, to be the more responsible adult while she cried her eyes out and screamed about how unfair everything was.

So she ran to the next best thing she could find.

The little library was quiet. There was a hush that Mel could even hear echoing in her mind. No sweet voice calling her name. No childish laughter. Everything was very still. A shiver went up her spine.

"Rod?" she called aloud, desperate for something to fill the silence.

"Shhhh…" Rod's voice whispered gently, "It's almost time."

Mel slowly slipped back into the far corner. It was cold here, the stones radiating a chill into the air. She pulled her shawl tighter and sank into the chair she'd settled between Rod's pot and the window where Birch's branches peeked inside.

"Time for what?" she asked softly.

Rod rustled his dark, waxy leaves (his beautiful pink and white flowers had long since fallen away) and Mel got the sense that he was settling in, bracing himself.

"Time for sleep." He said.

A childish yawn made Mel turn toward the window. Birch's branches shuddered, scraping against the stone. Her leaves had been slowly drifting away for some time, leaving behind bare silver bark. They were almost all gone now; only a few stalwart patches of brittle yellow remained.

"Calenhiril…" the little girl said, sleepily, "I was waiting. I told Rod I could wait for you."

Mel smiled and reached out a hand to brush though the ends of the branches.

"I'm here, Birch," She said.

The little girl's giggle was heavy and drowsy and followed by another high-pitched yawn.

"Sleepy, Calenhiril…" Birch mumbled, "So sleepy…"

"Yes, I'm sure you are, child," Rod said gently, almost wistfully, "Why don't you say your farewells and go to sleep? You've had a very exciting year."

Birch sighed and her branches shuddered again, settling.

"Got big this year, didn't I Rod?" she mumbled, "Bigger than all the rest put together…"

"Yes, my sweet girl," Rod said softly, "Soon you'll touch the sky."

Birch hummed happily at that.

"Happy winter nap, Calenhiril." She said, "Happy winter nap, Rod."

"Happy winter nap, sweet Birchling." Rod whispered.

And then, she was gone.

It was jarring, the absence of that childish presence in Mel's head, and it scared her.

"Rod?" She asked tentatively, "What just happened?"

The rhododendron sighed and rustled his branches, as if collecting himself.

"She's gone to sleep," he said, "As all her kind do in the dark months."

"But she's… she's coming back, right?"

"Yes, of course," Rod sharply assured her, "When the sun warms the earth again she'll wake and be just as exhaustingly exuberant as ever, I imagine."

More than ever the bush's harsh words lacked conviction. Despite their differences, Rod cared for Birch as much as any parent had ever loved a child. They were each other's world in this isolated corner of the house.

"Wait… Rod, what about you? Don't you hibernate in the winter?"

"No." He said shortly, "My kind don't sleep as others do, especially in my environment."

Evergreen. Rod would be awake the entire time Birch slept. And he would be alone.

"Oh Rod…"

She reached out a hand and twined her fingers gently between his leaves. He sighed and she felt a gentle tremble beneath her touch.

"You are sad, Calenhiril."

Rod's voice was kind and gentle, and Mel felt tears prick her eyes, but she blinked them away.

"I… I've lost someone too." She said, "Several someones. And I don't know if I'll ever get back to them."

There was a long pause.

"The first year she went to sleep, I worried." Rod said finally, "She waited as long as she could, longer than she should have. She always waits too long, chatters until the last possible second."

Mel smiled. That sounded exactly like Birch.

"I worried that something might happen while she slept, that she might not come back. I had been alone for a long time before she took root, and I worried that I would be alone again. I spent all of the dark, silent months fretting almost ceaselessly. When the sun returned and the air warmed, she woke. And she cried because my leaves had all turned brown."

Rod paused, rustled for a bit.

"When it's quiet and dark and I start to worry, I think of that," he said, "The worrying doesn't bring her back. It only makes her sad when she is here. Calenhiril… the ones that you've lost…will your sadness return you to them?"

Mel felt a flash of irrational anger, despite the kind and gentle way in which the words were spoken. She took a deep breath and forced it aside. There was no reason to be angry at anyone but herself. She was acting like a child and she knew it. Her mother… her mother wouldn't want her to spend her time moping in some dusty library, wailing about the unfairness of it all. That wasn't who she was, who her mother had raised her to be. If there was something she could do, she should do it, no matter what it was.

There is something you are meant to do… but you will not find it unless you remain to search it out…

Boromir's voice echoed in her memory. That niggling bit of truth that he had seen, that she had ignored from the very first day, now seemed so glaringly obvious. There was something she was supposed to do. And she wasn't going to find it sitting here.

She ran her fingers over Rod's vibrant green leaves.

"Thank you, Rod." She said.

He shivered and she could feel a swell of contentment oozing through her fingertips.

"If you ever speak of this to Birch, I'll never hear the end of it…"

Mel laughed, and the sound echoed against the quiet stone.

"You're secret's safe with me." She said aloud.

Then she retrieved the book of Noldorin ancestry they had been reading, and they spent the rest of the day muddling through the ancient names of forgotten lords.

Elvish Translations:

(website used for reference is phrasebooks)

(all translations are Sindarin, unless otherwise noted)

Ci ben-ind?- Are you insane?

Lasto i lalaith nîn, hanar!- Hear my laughter, brother!

Nan aear ar in elin…- By the sea and stars…

Ú-istol te tíren men?- Don't you know she is watching us?

Iston- I know.

Ista peded edhellen?-Does she know how to speak elvish?

Den ú-iston.- I doubt it.

Suil!- Greetings!

Istol peded edhellen?- Do you speak elvish?

Pe-channas…- Idiot…

Nîdh!- Ouch!

Im- I am (yes, I know, it's I'm without the apostrophe, don't ask, I just write what I'm told :P)

Nin?- Me?

Vinimë- little one (fem) (Quenya)

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