Warnings: mild descriptions of injuries, and some discussion of death, but nothing terribly graphic
Summary: With all the geological upheavel caused by the War of Wrath, the Blue Mountains are not, perhaps, the safest place to be. Written for the Back to Nature, Olore Malle, and Circle of Life (which was my trade-in) prompts.
The landslide caught him completely off guard. Rumbling sounded above him on the mountainside, and Eluréd looked up from the tracks he was following to see a wall of dirt and rocks and even entire trees tumbling downhill towards him. Swearing, he turned and ran, slipping and sliding, but the wave of earth behind him was only increasing in speed, and overtook him in moments. Something big and hard struck him in the back, and Eluréd stumbled, getting caught in the landslide himself, carried head over heels down the heavily wooded mountainside.
The next thing he knew, he was trapped beneath what felt like half the mountain. He couldn't move, could hardly breathe--and what breaths he could take felt like knives thrust into his ribs. It was dark, and dirt coated his mouth and stung his eyes, though it took almost all the strength he could muster to wipe his hand across his face. His head ached fiercely, and all his thoughts were muddled, except for one in particular: going hunting alone that day had been astonishingly, unspeakably stupid.
There had been strange things happening in the mountains for months. Elves and Men had been fleeing eastward--mostly Men, women and children struggling to escape a terrible war in the north that, they said, was set to destroy the whole world. Eluréd and Elurín hadn't really believed all that, though Nellas had listened to each new account thoughtfully, the creases on her forehead deepening with each new story. This wasn't the first landslide they had witnessed, and Nellas had lectured both Eluréd and Elurín at length on caution in the mountains.
I'm never going to hear the end of it, Eluréd thought as he struggled to remain conscious.
Unless he died, the possibility of which was suddenly and painfully made clear to him when the debris above him shifted, and a rock the size of his forearm dropped onto his stomach, driving bile up to burn the back of his throat, sour on his tongue. What a terribly undignified turn of events, for a grandson of Beren and Lúthien, to escape a kinslaying only to be crushed to death as a result of his own carelessness.
He and Elurín had debated, once, what their ultimate fate might be—whether they had inherited the life of the Eldar from their mother and grandmother, or the Doom of Men through their grandfather. Eluréd, it seemed, was going to find out before very long.
Sleep took him, and strange dreams with it. They were oddly rippled, like he was looking through a deep well at the images shown to him--high mountains whose peaks seemed to scrape against the pale dome of the sky, wreathed in clouds both pale and dark; a valley nestled at the feet of those mountains, protected by deep ravines, and filled with the music of countless silver waterfalls; a tower built atop cliffs overlooking the Sea, where myriad birds came to visit a woman with dark hair and sad eyes, clad in pale grey.
That last image shattered with the return of that terrible, sharp pain in his chest, and frantic voices above him, calling his name. He coughed and gasped, struggling toward consciousness, but feeling oddly disconnected, like there was something between him and the hands cupping his face. "...breathing, he's alive," someone was saying. "Eluréd--Eluréd, wake up!"
Eluréd forced his eyes open, but closed them again immediately against the bright light shining onto his face. Someone was digging through the debris somewhere nearby, and he felt a heavy weight vanish from his legs, so Elurín could drag him out to safety. If he'd been more alert, Eluréd would have gritted his teeth against the pain, but he couldn't quite manage to hold back the whimper as his broken legs bumped against the uneven ground.
"Sorry, sorry." Elurín bent over him, hair falling down to tickle Eluréd's face as he blinked his eyes open again. "Can you speak?" He glanced off to the side. "Nellas, where is the--thank you." A canteen appeared in front of Eluréd's face, and he sipped gratefully at cool, clean water, before someone--Nellas, probably--got to work splinting his legs, and he passed out again.
The next time Eluréd woke, he had been made comfortable by a fire, his various broken bones set and bound, and his head felt marginally clearer, although it still ached. And Elurín was there, glowering at him. "You almost died," he said as soon as he noticed Eluréd waking.
"But you're going to be fine," Nellas cut in as she handed Elurín another canteen--this one odd-looking, inlaid with silver, and filled with some kind of cordial that eased Eluréd's headache and spread comforting warmth throughout his body. “Elurín, please stop sulking. It isn’t his fault we were given no warning before the mountains started to crumble.”
"What d'you mean?" Eluréd asked, blinking up at Nellas.
She pushed her hair from her face and sat back on her heels. Behind her, the sky was purpling, the first stars starting to appear. "All the rumors we heard were true," she said. "There was a great war--the Powers themselves came to Middle-earth to defeat the Enemy once and for all, and in doing so, all of Beleriand was destroyed. Drowned."
Eluréd stared at her, and then at Elurín. Even if he hadn't been struck so hard in the head, he didn't think he could imagine that kind of destruction.
His memories of Beleriand were a hazy, strange mixture of bright joy and terrible fear. But Nellas had told them all the tales she knew--from the Great Journey to the fall of Nargothrond in the south--and the thought of Menegroth crumbling to dust, or the great beeches of Neldoreth sinking beneath crushing waves...it was impossible. Or it should have been.
Nellas continued, “Now all that remains is a portion of Ossiriand, and a remnant of the Ered Luin. The Noldor’s exile has been lifted, and many of them are sailing West. I heard rumors of a place for the Edain, too, an island somewhere where they can dwell if they wish. The Valar have already returned to the West, but some of their servants linger. One has come in search of the two of you.”
Elurín looked up sharply. “You didn’t mention that,” he said.
“I’m afraid it slipped my mind, between digging Eluréd out and tending his injuries,” Nellas replied, rolling her eyes. “Anyway, he isn’t here now, but he gave me this.” She held up the silver-inlaid canteen. “It’s some sort of Noldorin—or maybe Vanyarin—cordial. He gave it to me before getting called away again.” Her mouth quirked as Elurín helped Eluréd sit up. "I suppose he has other things to do, besides tracking down wayward princes."
Elurín made a face at her. "To be princes we'd need a kingdom," he said. "Which, as you say, has just been cast into the Sea." He gestured vaguely westward. Eluréd glanced toward the sky, where he should have been able to catch a glimpse of that star with its particular brilliance that brought to mind his father with the Nauglamír, sitting on the throne in Menegroth--the most splendid of all his childhood memories. But the star wasn't there. Maybe it was just hidden behind a snatch of cloud, or...
Nellas ran her fingers again through her hair. "Kingdoms are made of people, more than land," she said. "But that isn't the point. The Maia--Eönwë, he said his name was--was looking for the two of you, Eluréd and Elurín, sons of Dior and Nimloth. So do not take this lightly!"
"He didn't tell you why he was looking for us?" Elurín asked. Nellas shook her head. "Then..."
A sudden flash across the clearing heralded the arrival of one who could only be Eönwë. He was terrifyingly splendid to look at, clad in shining armor, with a light in his eyes bright as the Silmaril their father had worn. Nellas rose to greet him, and Elurín almost did, before pausing in a half-crouch, his arm still around Eluréd's shoulders.
Eönwë strode across the clearing to look down at the two of them, and Eluréd fought the urge to squirm like a child. "Sons of Dior," he said, with a voice like the faint rumble of thunder in the distance, "I come on behalf of the Valar with their greetings, and with the pronouncement of their judgment concerning the halfelven."
"Judgment?" Eluréd echoed. "What did we do to earn—ow." He broke off when Elurín dug a finger into his side, right in the center of a bruise.
Eönwë's lips twitched, just a little. "Eärendil Tuor's son and his wife Elwing your sister came to the shores of Valinor bearing the Silmaril, and it was their coming that prompted the Valar to march on Middle-earth and throw down the towers of Thangorodrim--and concerning the fate of the halfelven, Lord Manwë has judged thus: your fate is yours to choose, each of you, whether you will be accounted among Men or among Elves, and so share their fate, whether to be bound to Arda while it lasts, or to die and pass beyond the Circles of the World forever."
Eluréd looked at Elurín, who blinked at him, and then up at Eönwë as they tried to fully grasp what he'd just told them.
It was Nellas who spoke. "Little Elwing is alive?" She wounded incredulous. "But how can this be? Menegroth was..."
"A remnant of your folk escaped to the havens built at the mouths of the River Sirion," Eönwë said, looking at Nellas. "With them went Elwing, and the Silmaril."
They'd gone west while Nellas had taken Eluréd and Elurín east. Of course. Eluréd let his head drop onto Elurín's shoulder. Maybe they could go find Elwing, then--she'd be a woman grown, now, instead of the little baby with big grey eyes and sticky hands.
Except Eönwë had called her the wife of--who was it? Eärendil? The name wasn't Sindarin. Had their baby sister grown up to marry a Noldo? Eluréd opened his mouth to ask, but Elurín spoke first:
"What did our sister choose? And what of our father Dior?"
"Dior's fate is known to none but the Lord of Mandos," Eönwë said. "Elwing has chosen the life of the Eldar, and dwells in Valinor by the sea.”
Elurín looked at Eluréd, and then back at Eönwë. “Do we have to choose now?” he asked. “Or can we have some time to consider?”
Eönwë inclined his head. “I will return in seven days,” he said, and took a step backward before disappearing in another flash of bright light.
Eluréd lay back down with Elurín’s help, both of them blinking the spots from their eyes. “Elwing’s alive,” Eluréd said.
“And on the other side of the Sea,” Elurín said. “I’d like to know how…”
“We can learn that tale easily enough, if we visit the new settlements,” Nellas said, regarding the pair of them solemnly. “But now it seems as though you two have a lot of thinking to do over the next week.”
“Mm.” Eluréd closed his eyes. “’M not doing any more thinking tonight.”
“You never do any thinking,” Elurín muttered, but the teasing sounded half-hearted even to Eluréd, half-asleep as he was.
The next seven days passed at once slowly, and far too quickly. Eluréd was stuck sitting by the campfire, unless Elurín was there to help him hobble around. Elurín kept disappearing into the woods, leaving Eluréd alone with Nellas, who busied herself fletching arrows or mending clothes or gathering food. Whatever Eluréd and Elurín decided, Eluréd guessed, Nellas did not want to influence them unduly.
Except she was the one who had raised them, the only real parent either of them could remember. Eluréd didn’t have to think too hard about his own choice, especially after his brush with death on the mountainside. He’d been in too much pain to really be afraid, then, but now…
But halfway through the week a thought struck him: what if Elurín chose a different fate? What if he chose Men, instead of Elves? They’d both spent plenty of time among Men—hunters and refugees fleeing the wars of Beleriand, those mostly women and children. Eluréd stared into the fire, trying to remember if Elurín had ever shown any sign of desire for the sort of life they led—the briefness of it, the thrill of the unknown? He didn’t think so, but how could he really be sure?
Finally, Elurín returned to sit beside Eluréd. “It’s not fair,” he said, picking up a stick to poke at the embers. “Making us choose.”
“Would you rather they chose for us?” Eluréd asked.
“Maybe. Then all of us would have the same fate. I met a couple of scouts—Noldor, I think. They spoke of High King Gil-galad, anyway. I asked if they knew anything about Elwing and—what was his name. Eärendil.”
“Eärendil’s up there, somewhere.” Elurín pointed up. “And Elwing is across the Sea. And their son Elrond holds some high position in Gil-galad’s court.”
Eluréd blinked. “Oh.” The thought of Elwing having children had never crossed his mind. “It sounds as though all the halfelven have chosen alike.”
But Elurín shook his head. “They told me Elrond has a brother, Elros, who chose the fate of Men. He’s a king, now. The Edain who fought in the War of Wrath were gifted an island somewhere, and departed for it not long ago.”
“Oh.” Eluréd shifted, wincing as one of his legs protested. “That messenger is returning in a few days.”
“What will you tell him?”
“What will you tell him?”
They stared at each other for a few moments. Eluréd tried to read Elurín’s choice on his face, but couldn’t. “I don’t want to die,” he said finally. “I don’t want to sail West, either, not now, but I do want to see Naneth again. And Elwing.”
All the tension left Elurín in a rush, and he smiled, looking almost giddy. “Me, too,” he said.
Nellas looked up from the arrows she was fletching across the fire, looking amused. “You were both afraid the other would choose differently, weren’t you?” She shook her head, smiling. “I could have told you not to worry. You’re both as alike in thought and mood as you are in looks.”
“Not since Eluréd nearly got himself crushed,” Elurín protested. “It’s obvious now that I’m the more handsome twin.”
That night, Eluréd watched Eärendil’s star gleam overhead, while beneath him the ground shook gently, as the earth continued to settle in the wake of Beleriand’s drowning. He’d dreamed several times that week of the mountains wrapped in mist and cloud, and of that valley hidden somewhere in the foothills.
It was a new Age, now. The Enemy was gone, and probably almost all his servants with him. They were free to wander where they would, without fear—maybe they could find that valley, or see what lay beyond the mountains.
And someday, maybe they would find a ship to take them West, where Elwing waited, and their mother—and, maybe, their father too.