Brothers and Sisters
Chapter 29: Sisters and Brothers
Cold night had long since swallowed the land, deepening the shadows of battle and ruin. The elves had decisively destroyed their enemy and now picked up the remains; their first battle brought victory. Many of the company sang softly as they sorted through the ravaged field, searching out arrows that could be reused, piling carcasses. Steam curled from the ashen bodies, an image of spirits fleeing the dead. Grey, and shade of grey, tinted everything: dull, dark, lifeless.
Eledhel frantically chased the perimeter of the battle scene and smoking forest, looking for any sign or trace of his sister. He had seen her enter the woods but not return, and now he feared the worst. At last he rounded the woods' eave and saw her there, crouched among corpses.
"Miredhel--" he called excitedly. She did not answer right away, only turned to push away a heap of tangled curls from her wet, smudged face and liquid eyes. Another tear spilled over her lashes. His sister was crying. Eledhel quickened his pace to a full-on sprint and shouted as he ran: "Miredhel, are you hurt? Are you? Answer me!"
She woefully shook her head, and when he grew nearer, he discerned that she held another, whose body hung limply in her arms. Eledhel collapsed at his sister's side.
"Miredhel—look at me. Are you hurt?"
She shook her head and then forced the words to come, "Eledhel, look at her—"
"I don't care about looking at her!" he snapped. "I want to look at you! Are you hurt in any way?" His eyes darted over Miredhel, widening at a smear of blood across her waist, and her brother pointed to the dark red stain and immediately began to lift her tunic's hem to check for a wound.
Miredhel pushed his hand away. "Stop it! I'm not injured, Eledhel," she vehemently protested, and she was not, at least not with any physical wound. "But she is. We have to hurry. Can you carry her?"
Eledhel turned his attention to the elf maiden in his sister's embrace. Pain marred her delicate features, and he wondered what color her eyes were. "She's beautiful," he breathed. "Who is she, so fair and lost?"
Miredhel bit her lower lip, willing the tears not to fall anew. "She followed us from Mirkwood…" She glanced at her brother, and her chin quivered.
"What? You can tell me, sis." Eledhel asked, placing his palm against his sister's cheek as he comfortingly smoothed away the grime from her cheekbone.
"I'm pretty sure she's Lierwen," Miredhel said and with a deep breath, added, "Legolas' intended."
"His intended?" asked Eledhel incredulously, as he carefully scooped up the girl into his arms. Miredhel stiffly rose from the ground, and they both began to walk to the area where all the elves had congregated.
"You know, his lover…" Miredhel said, her voice trembling.
"No," Eledhel shook his head. "No," he stated firmly, "not Lierwen. She left him right before he came to the Golden Wood. He told me so himself."
"I saw them, Eledhel, together in the woods. She said she loved him, and he fully returned her affections!" Miredhel said and cringed, as if saying it aloud made the truth worse, or perhaps even more real, if that was possible.
Eledhel looked down at the girl in his arms and then scrutinized his sister beside him. She looked completely wild and battle ravaged, but her eyes haunted him the most. Eledhel uncomfortably averted his eyes and quickened his pace. He had seen that look before—when their parents left and when she had learned of Annariel's death—sheer anguish, a specter of the grief plaguing her heart. His sister suffered, and once again, he stood powerless to ease her cares. He did not even know why she was so upset, unless…
"Miredhel, you're in love with him," he said suddenly, and his statement caused both brother and sister to stop and stare at each other.
"No," she whispered. "I was in love with a dream," she said and gestured to the land, blackened and slimy with bodies, "and I awoke to a nightmare, Eledhel. Yet even in the midst of all this, death still seems a warm smile."
"Miredhel, no," Eledhel protested, but she turned and walked away from him.
"I just want to be alone, El. Take her back to the prince. Stay with her."
At this point, Eledhel wanted to run to his sister and drag her back with him as well, but he could not. His arms were full, and the girl stirred restlessly. He glanced behind him to the retreating form of his sister, and then hurried toward the other elves, his eyes narrowing in anger. He could remember nothing of the friendship that he and the prince had shared, only the lost look in Miredhel's eyes. Legolas had done this. How dare he? How dare he!
* * *
Eledhel first ran into young Farothin, who sat with a watchful eye across the expanse of the ruined stretch of Brown Lands.
"Farothin, go and get Legolas."
"Who is she?" Farothin asked, as he rose silently from the wet grass.
"Now!" barked Eledhel. His eyes burned with a wrath that drew chills, and away Farothin went. He would ask no more questions that night. Eledhel hurried to Colmaethor, an elf he knew well from the Golden Wood, who could dispense bandages as quickly as he could arrows. Many times before had Eledhel sought his aid; only tonight, it was not for himself.
Most of the elves had taken pause to clean the filth of battle from themselves and their weapons, fletch new arrows, sharpen blades, or tend to injuries. It was thus occupied that Eledhel found Colmaethor—wrapping a strip of cloth around a fellow warriors' upper arm, laughing that he would live to see another day.
"Colmaethor? I need your aid. Not for me, but for her," Eledhel asked anxiously, gently setting his charge on the ground before the healer.
Colmaethor's smile faded. "Oh, Eledhel," he said, his fingers drawn to the crimson stain across her side.
"My sister found her. Can you help her?"
"It depends on how severe this is," the healer despondently replied. He carefully peeled away her tunic to see a hand's width gash down her ribs. "Eledhel, did Miredhel see how the girl received this cut?" he asked, cutting a length of bandage.
Eledhel did not answer. He had left. The prince had arrived.
With a startled moan, Legolas sank to his knees beside the girl. He turned to look up at Farothin who still stood beside him. Farothin, who of anyone, held the prince in the highest regard, had never seen him falter in battle, believing him to fear no man, beast, or dark lord, had all such illusions torn down this night. Worry, grief, fear—all pooled within Legolas' eyes, and Farothin shrank away from the sight, leaving the prince with his beloved.
Legolas did not speak, but he reached for her hand as Colmaethor sponged away the grime and blood and bound the wound anew. At last, Legolas exhaled and squeezed her hand. "Will she be all right? Should we not wake her?" he asked, and his voice shook.
Colmaethor smiled softly and said, "She is strong. Her ribs protected her from a more serious wound. She will live." He placed a comforting hand on Legolas' shoulder.
"It is well that she rest for now, my lord. Her body will heal faster, and for the time being, she will be spared the pain of her injuries," Colmaethor advised.
Legolas dully nodded in agreement, and he continued to stroke her hand. "I wish to stay with her."
"Who is she?" Colmaethor asked quietly, hoping to ease his leader's grief.
"Someone who should never have been here," Legolas said and leaned over her, placing a light kiss on her forehead. When he first saw her stretched across the earth, open and bleeding, Legolas feared the worst. She was dead, and he had caused this somehow. His choices had done this to her. If he had stayed in Mirkwood and been the prince his father had wanted him to be, then none of this would have happened. She would be safe in the Great Hall at this very moment, whole and happy. Instead, she lay beside him, stricken and dirty with the ugliness of battle. "Foolish, foolish, girl," he murmured, sweeping his fingertips across her pale brow.
"Who brought her in?" Legolas asked suddenly.
"Eledhel did, but he said his sister saved her," Colmaethor replied and added, "I haven't seen Miredhel return yet."
Legolas stiffened, and his eyes darted to the girl prone at his side.
"Lord Legolas, I can stay with her if you like and call you when she wakes. I know you have duties to attend to," Colmaethor offered kindly.
Legolas nodded and rose. He bowed gratefully to the healer, and then made his way over to the other elves. He had to find Eledhel.
* * *
Legolas called everyone to attention, "Warriors! Make camp. We will stay here. Rest for now. At dawn, we must ride." His eyes scanned the group several times over before he finally spotted Eledhel on the outskirts, gazing into the dark. Legolas hurried over to him.
"Eledhel! Where is your sister?"
His friend turned slowly, and anger smoldered in his eyes. "Why do you care?" he asked, taking a step toward the prince.
"I must speak with her at once," Legolas said and studied his friend. Eledhel seemed so very angry, and the prince could not understand why. "Eledhel, what is wrong, my friend?"
Eledhel took another step forward. "Your friend? That is a laugh, Legolas. You, who pretend to be my friend, never once spoke of your intentions, carried on a love affair with my sister—behind my back?" He snorted. "And you wonder if something is wrong?"
Legolas swallowed. Clearly Eledhel was upset and spoiling for a fight. Legolas knew he should have told him right off from the very beginning that he wanted to court Miredhel. Then all of this unpleasant business could have been avoided. He would just have to hear Eledhel out, choke back his pride, and ask for his forgiveness.
"I am sorry, Eledhel. I should have told you. I will say that I treated her with only the utmost respect and did nothing to darken her honor."
Eledhel rolled his eyes. "Oh, you are so noble, Legolas," he scoffed. "You would never 'darken her honor,' but you would play with her heart."
Legolas bit down hard on the insides of his mouth. He had never responded well to false accusations or having his principles called into question. "I did not 'play with her heart,' Eledhel!"
Eledhel took another step forward, and by now most of the other elves had gathered protectively around the two. Lorien elves took the side of Eledhel, and the Mirkwood elves hovered behind their prince.
Eledhel laughed like Legolas' last statement was completely outrageous. "Didn't you though?" he said, pressing his fingertips into Legolas' shoulder in a light push. "What was it that you wanted, Your Princeliness? To teach her a lesson for standing up to you? To see if you could break her spirit? Or how quickly you could bed her without my knowledge?"
All of the wood elves leaned in, waiting for Legolas' response.
"How dare you imply—" Legolas closed the gap between the two. His hands balled into fists. Silent rage emanated from both their eyes.
"Imply what? The truth?" Eledhel retorted and gave Legolas a hearty push backwards, quickly pulling one of Legolas' long white knives from its sheath to point it at him. All of the Mirkwood elves instantly pulled their bows to aim at Eledhel, and the Lorien elves followed suit to defend their old captain.
Legolas took a deep breath and looked around him. "I understand that you are upset, Eledhel, but don't do something that we will both regret," he coldly advised. "Drop the knife."
"I should kill you for what you have done to her," Eledhel growled. He stared down at the white knife in his hand, seeing his dark grey eyes in the cool reflection, and in them, Miredhel 's eyes. Frightened. Weary. His little sister. He had tried so hard to protect her, and he had failed.
Eledhel shook his head. His eyes narrowed. Just then Belegil and Sulindal broke through the ranks of armed warriors, disbelief hanging on both their faces.
"What in Valinor's name is going on here?" asked Sulindal, agape at the two sides pitted against one another, and then more so at the sight of Eledhel pointing a knife at Legolas.
"Everyone put your weapons away! Away!" shouted Belegil, and he began to disperse the lot of the elves, though many of the former Mirkwood warriors refused to leave Legolas' side, still feeling that he might require their protection. Adrendil hung closely behind Legolas, absolutely declining to put his bow away. Instead, he trained his loaded arrow on Eledhel, whom he had never liked anyway, ever since that unfortunate scene at the council meeting.
"This is ridiculous, you two. Both of you should know better," Sulindal fussed. "How can we defeat the enemy if we fight amongst ourselves?"
Neither Eledhel nor Legolas had an answer and continued to scowl at one another.
Sulindal directed his gaze at Legolas, whom he knew to be less hot-headed than Eledhel. "Legolas," he said softly, "rise above this. This is not a good omen for Ithilien's success. Eledhel has been one of your most influential supporters to this date."
Legolas quickly glanced at Sulindal. In his heart, he knew his friend spoke the truth, but Eledhel had crossed the line. Friend or not, he would not let his words and actions go unchecked, unpunished. "This is personal, Sulindal. Leave us."
Sulindal did not leave. He simply stood there and crossed his arms over his chest.
Eledhel glanced at Sulindal and then back at Legolas. His shoulders sagged, and he turned Legolas' knife in his hand to offer the hilt back to the prince. "Miredhel is dying, Legolas. I saw it in her eyes. Take your knife and go finish what you've started—that would be a kindness compared to the suffering she'll face before the end."
Sulindal responded first, "Miredhel? Dying? Eledhel, no." He shook his head and reached for his friend's shoulder. "Is she injured? What happened?"
Eledhel did not answer. He barely heard Sulindal's words, for his whole being focused on Legolas' reaction.
The prince blanched, stepping back to rake his fingers through his hair. It could not be true. Not her, not Miredhel. He should never have asked her to come with him, and now she would pay the price for his foolishness. His mind raced, wondering how she had been injured, if she could be saved, and why had Eledhel not brought her into their camp; and over all of these—that he must get to her, see her, save her—make everything right. He dully sheathed his knife. "Where is she, Eledhel?" he asked.
The tremendous shock on the prince's face almost made Eledhel believe him to be sincere, but no--he had carried in the very proof of Legolas' duplicity from battle.
"You've done enough! Leave her alone," Eledhel commanded.
"I cannot make that promise," said Legolas. "I must see her." Desperation bound his voice, and his deep blue eyes looked past Eledhel into the inky night. He then shouldered his way past Sulindal, toward the open land and battlefield, but Eledhel blocked his route. His fist struck squarely across Legolas' chin, and the prince staggered back only for a second before he returned the punch. The two squared off, only an arm's length apart, both rigid, determined.
"Move out of my way," hissed Legolas.
"You'll have to kill me first," Eledhel said stubbornly.
"Then you leave me no choice," Legolas shot back, and both elves drew their blades.
"Have you both gone mad?" Sulindal protested and looked helplessly to his twin brother. Belegil could only shrug, not from indifference, but because the whole situation had left him feeling completely dumfounded.
Legolas twirled his knives in his hand, and Eledhel tightened his grip on his sword. A breeze stirred. The elven camp grew silent, watching, waiting. The two warriors leaned in toward each other, their muscles taut with anticipation, their eyes keen for that first tick of movement, and somewhere in the grass, a cricket began to chirp. All drew a silent breath.
Neither elf moved.
Their blades gleamed in the moonlight, and Legolas painfully remembered their fight on the bridge. Only this felt so much more evil.
The prince lowered his knives.
"I cannot do this," he said in resignation. "I place myself in your mercy, Eledhel. I have never had to beg for anything in all my years…but I will now. If I could see Miredhel one last time—please," Legolas' voice broke, "I love her."
As soon as the words had flown from his mouth, he knew of their worth and truth. He loved her! Miredhel, with all her faults and temper and sweetness, had claimed his heart. Somewhere from the Golden Wood, following their dangerous road, to the eves of Mirkwood, through darkness and light, somewhere along the way, in the midst of all their troubles, he had fallen in love with her.
The twins exchanged gleeful looks, but Eledhel remained untouched. "Have you no sense of decency?" he asked through clenched teeth. "How can you say that with her over there!" He pointed to the injured girl. "Miredhel saved her. She knew! She saw you fawning over each other in Mirkwood and still saved her!"
"What!?" Legolas exclaimed, snapping his head toward the girl. Colmaethor caught his eye and waved.
"My lord," the healer called, "the young lady is awake and asking for her brother."
"Her brother?" repeated Eledhel dully, his mouth falling open.
"Yes, her brother--" Legolas replied waspishly. "I don't even want to know who you thought she was."
Eledhel shook his head and sheathed his sword. "Oh, Miredhel…" he muttered.
Legolas looked at him seriously. "Is she really dying, Eledhel?"
"I think her chances of recovery just improved dramatically," he said dryly.
Legolas' eyes brightened as swift understanding met with hope, and neither were found wanting. And with that in mind, Legolas quickly left to attend to his sister.
* * *
Legolas knelt at his sister's side. Dark circles shadowed her eyes, making her face seem pale and tired, but she still looked sweet and lovely to him. Celeril, his little sister. He took her hand in his once more.
"Legolas?" she said, her voice rasping as if in want of water. She tried to turn on her side to look at him, but the pain, and probably the tight bandage on her side as well, prevented her from doing so. She grimaced and tilted her head back to see him.
"I am here, Celeril," he answered anxiously and held a water-skin to her mouth so she could drink.
"You're not very angry, are you?" she asked in a small voice.
"I'm furious," he softly answered, "but not nearly as angry as our father will be."
She closed her eyes and nodded. "I know. But I could not stay."
"Yes, you could have."
"You didn't," she pointed out, and the corners of her mouth pulled up into a tiny smile.
"I know," Legolas conceded tiredly. "But at least I told him up front that I was going to leave."
"Oh, Legolas, please don't scold me. Not now," she said to her brother, pressing her hand to her se. She bit down on her lower lip, and a small tear escaped from the corner of her eye.
Legolas sighed and comfortingly rubbed the top of her hand. He offered her his water-skin again, and she eagerly drank.
"I could see if Colmaethor has something for the pain," he offered.
She nodded appreciatively and then stopped. "Wait," she said, "did you ever take anything for pain when you were injured?"
Legolas smiled to himself. This was more like the Celeril he knew. He raised his eyebrows in mock offense. "I? Injured?" he asked.
She snorted and then gripped her wound with a frown. Apparently laughing would be off-limits for the time being, which was most unfortunate, for she dearly loved to laugh. No one was better at making her do so than her favorite brother.
"Please, Legolas," she said earnestly. "I suppose you are forgetting the time you came in from the eastern patrol with two arrow wounds and a broken leg. Oromer had to carry you in after you passed out."
"I was sleeping…and it wasn't broken!" he protested.
Legolas lowered his voice. "If you tell anyone that…" he warned.
"Don't worry, big brother. Your secrets are safe with me," she said and smiled sweetly, "for now."
Little sisters. Legolas rolled his eyes. He took off his cloak and tucked it around her.
"So did you?" she questioned him.
"Did I what?" he asked blankly.
"Take anything for the pain?" Celeril said, giving him a pointed look.
Legolas thought about it for a minute. He supposed having Miredhel doctor his back with those herbs when he was burned would count…but he was definitely not bringing that up. He smiled to himself and gently brushed the hair from his sister's face. He picked up another blanket and covered her with that as well.
He said, "No, but I think you ought to, Celeril. We will have to ride in the morning, and I imagine you will be very sore."
She groaned. "Why would you not take anything, Legolas?"
"Because I would have wanted to stay sharp for battle," he answered.
"Me too," she agreed, nodding sleepily.
Her brother shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "No more fights for you, little one."
She pouted. "Not little! You should have seen me, Legolas. I did everything just like you showed me," she murmured, burrowing down into her pallet.
"I wish I would have seen you," he agreed. "You know, your surprise appearance caused much confusion."
"Hmm?" she said, her eyes growing distant and dreamy.
"Never mind," Legolas said. He patted her arm, stood, and then walked to find Colmaethor, who had left to give the brother and sister some privacy. He was not far.
"Colmaethor?" Legolas hesitated. Celeril was not going to like this. "Do you have some sort of herb or draught that you could give my sister to help her sleep? To ease her discomfort?"
Colmaethor nodded. "I was thinking just the same thing, my lord."
"Something…robust," Legolas suggested and left. He rounded the small ring of their makeshift campsite, making inquiries and reassuring his company that his young sister would mend nicely. For by this time word of her identity had spread quickly, and everyone knew by now who she was; of course, the former Mirkwood elves recognized her once they saw her. There was still the issue of Miredhel and Eledhel.
Legolas wanted to make things right with both of them. Of course, Eledhel knew, but did Miredhel? Would she know by now? His whole being wished that she had merely come to him. She must have seen him with Celeril in Mirkwood before they had left. That would explain much of her distant behavior. She thought he had played her false, and what little trust they had built together had been broken. He hoped that once she knew the truth, they could begin anew.
Perhaps Eledhel had found her and told her after he had discovered the truth of the matter for himself. Legolas was doubly glad that she had not been there to witness the ugly scene between himself and her brother. He hoped that she would never hear of it. The prince alone could hardly believe how close he had come to fighting Eledhel, his good friend. His trusted ally. Only Legolas had breached that trust. He knew he deserved Eledhel's scorn, the full measure of his anger. What if someone had behaved that way to his little sister? Legolas knew he would have reacted exactly the same as Eledhel, if not worse! Even though Eledhel had some misconceptions about Legolas' intentions, the prince knew he had avoided mentioning his interest in Miredhel to her brother, and purposefully so; there had been many opportunities where he could have divulged his interests and had chosen not to for selfish reasons.
Legolas found Eledhel in the same place he had found him earlier, now sitting low upon the ruined brown earth, and his eyes were distant and cold.
"Eledhel?" Legolas said, keeping his voice low.
Eledhel did not turn or blink or even flinch a single muscle in response. It was like he had been awaiting Legolas' arrival all along as inevitability of fate in motion.
Finally, Eledhel sighed and spoke. "How long?" he asked quietly, clasping his hands together.
"What?" Legolas said, drawing up beside him.
"How long have you been involved with her, pursuing her?" Eledhel added, but there was no need for him to say whom he meant. Legolas knew he spoke of Miredhel, and his friend's question left no room for polite avoidance. He could only answer the question directly.
"Ever since that first night I saw her—" Legolas admitted.
"And I told you she was my sister. Didn't I warn you to tread lightly where she was concerned?"
Eledhel shook his head. "When I first heard about your plans for Ithilien, Legolas, I knew I wanted to be a part of it…a new start in these last days for our people, for me, for my family. I supported you from the very beginning, trusted you," Eledhel paused to take deep breath, "and you could not even show me the courtesy of telling that you wanted to court my sister?"
"I am sorry, Eledhel," Legolas said honestly. "It was wrong of me."
Eledhel looked at the prince directly, the first time he had done so since Legolas had sat down.
"I would have told you 'no,' Legolas. Despite how much I value your friendship or have come to respect you, even--I would have asked you to stay away from her."
Legolas frowned. "But why?" he asked.
"You should know why, Legolas, if you care about her as much as you claim to," he said frankly.
"Because of her grief?" the prince asked, and Eledhel nodded savagely. All elves feel emotions to an extent that few men could comprehend, and although this can bring great joy in their lives, their emotions can also visit upon them tremendous pain. Grief is deadly. Few recover, and most, once stricken, seek the peace that only the light from across the western seas can bring. Even if an elf possessed strength enough to recover from grief, its haunting effects would linger on indefinitely, devouring all peace from restful dreams. Elves once touched by grief became vulnerable, fragile in the face of any emotion.
"She nearly died last time," Eledhel said in a low voice. "Her heart could not endure more sorrow, another onset."
"She told me about Annariel," Legolas admitted.
"Did she?" Eledhel sounded surprised. "I do not believe that she has told me the entire story yet. She trusts you, Legolas. Even though I know it does not seem that way tonight."
Both elves fell into an awkward silence. Legolas stared into the dark, hopeful of seeing his lady, and Eledhel longingly looked toward the stars' dim light. Finally, Eledhel spoke.
"Did you mean what you said when we were fighting earlier, Legolas?" he asked.
"Which part?" the prince asked.
"The part where you said you loved her—"
Legolas' eyes unwaveringly met Eledhel's dark grey ones. "Yes. Yes, I meant it. I love her," he said simply.
Eledhel nodded thoughtfully, and he pushed his thick hair back from his face, his eyes brightening. A tiny smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "That is well," he said. "Because if you had said 'no' then I would have had to fight you again, and…both of you are so very dear to me. I would rejoice in you and Miredhel finding happiness in each other."
"May I see your sister, Eledhel? Court her?"
Eledhel unfolded his hands and stretched his fingers out before reluctantly responding, "I suppose so—"
Legolas smiled brightly, perhaps too brightly for Eledhel's liking, because his friend saw him and frowned.
Eledhel placed one hand on Legolas' shoulder and looked him squarely in the eye to say: "But I swear to the Valar, if you hurt her in any way— Lord of Ithilien or not, I will kill you. And please, for Miredhel's sake, be mindful of her heart, for grief still shadows it in ways that we cannot know."
Legolas did his best to look solemn. "I will take the best possible care of her," he promised. Then he stood, all the while trying not to appear too hasty, and left to find her, Miredhel, to soothe her cares and mend her heart, and somehow, make her his own.
* * *
Like, love, abhor? I would love to hear from you.
Thank you so much for all of your generous comments and praise last time. I appreciate your feedback so much. I loved Chapter 28, and was thrilled to hear that you liked it as well.