Along Came a Spider

Chapter 2: The Female of the Species

by Jay of Lasgalen

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    Elladan knelt by Nólimon, trying to establish what was happening to him.  The venom was very fast-acting, for already Nólimon’s red tunic was soaked with sweat, and he moaned with pain.  Aldain, the only pain killer they carried, would hopefully help him though.  He tried again to persuade Nólimon to drink a little water.
    A shout startled him, and he twisted round at Elrohir’s warning, reflexively catching the two small packets his brother threw at him.  A spider, even bigger than those they had just fought, was almost upon him, and he felt a spurt of fear as he looked up at it.  Elrohir drew his sword and jumped forward, stabbing at it, but then he seemed to jerk in pain.  He stabbed again, and stepped back, panting, as the spider finally died.
    Elladan had felt the sharp sting of pain, but knew he had to be mistaken.  It was impossible that Elrohir had been bitten.  It had to be.  He scrambled to his feet and ran to his brother’s side.  “El!  Are you all right?”  Elrohir made no response, so he seized Elrohir’s arm, and pushed his sleeve back roughly.  His heart sank, and he felt himself grow cold.  There, unmistakable, was the mark of the spider’s fangs – such a tiny, insignificant looking wound.  His eyes met Elrohir’s.  “Oh, gods, El – it bit you.  It bit you!”  he exclaimed in despair.
    Elrohir nodded wordlessly, seeming rather dazed.  Then he swayed slightly and stumbled.  Elladan caught him and lowered him to the ground gently.  “Elrohir – no!”  Elrohir leaned against him and managed a weak smile.
    “No need to worry, El – I will be all right,” he said faintly.  “Am-Amandil said that – that many have survived this.”  Elrohir was shivering now, and was chalk white.  “We g-got our spider hunt a-after all,” he added.
    “Yes, we did,”  Elladan agreed.  “And of course you will be all right.  You and Nólimon.  Amandil said so.”  Helplessly, he repeated the lie back to Elrohir – though they both knew only too well what Amandil had actually said.  He patted Elrohir’s shoulder.  “Now, just wait there a moment while I get everything ready.”  He laid Elrohir carefully on the ground and turned to Amandil.
    Amandil was gathering everything together haphazardly.  “We need to get them both back to Lasgalen, now.  Hurry, but keep watch!”
    Elladan stuffed everything at random into their packs, and threw both onto Elrohir’s horse.  All the while, he scanned the trees for any more spiders, and kept casting anxious glances over his shoulder at Elrohir.  He lay on his side, arms wrapped around his chest, still shivering.
    “El?  Can you hear me?”  Elladan asked quietly.  He touched his brother’s face gently, but although he still appeared to be conscious, he did not respond at first.  Elladan eased him up, propping Elrohir against him, and found one of the vials of medicine Elrohir had taken from his pack.  Thumbing the top off, he held it to Elrohir’s mouth.  “Drink this, El.  It will help.  It will ease the pain.”
    To his amazement, Elrohir turned his head away weakly, clamping his lips together.  “No,” he managed to say.  “Not aldain.  Too dangerous.  The poison – it affects muscle c-control.  Why I’m sh-shaking.”  He raised one hand and tried to push the vial away, but lacked the strength.  His hand fell back limply, and he closed his eyes.
    Elladan suddenly understood.  One of the effects of this particular pain-killer was to relax the muscles, easing tension and pain.  However if the venom disrupted muscular control, the combined effect could dangerously, disastrously  affect his brother’s breathing.  He thanked the Valar that Elrohir had recognised his symptoms in time.  He turned to Amandil.  “Did you give any of the medicine to Nólimon?” he asked.
    Amandil shook his head.  “No.  There was no time.  And he is unconscious now.  Why?”
    “The pain killer works by relaxing the muscles,”  Elladan explained.  “Does the venom disrupt muscular control?  If so, it is too dangerous.”
    Amandil shrugged.  “Possibly.  I am no healer – I have no idea how this poison works, just what I have seen it do.”
    Slowly, Elladan re-stoppered the vial, and placed it in his pocket.  “All right.  No aldain.  You know best – you know what this is doing to you.  Just hold on, El.  Hold on until we get to Lasgalen.”
    Elrohir nodded.  Then he opened his eyes, looking up at Elladan.  “ ‘I know best’?” he whispered.  “C-can I have that in writing?  I will n-never let you forget that!”  Then he gripped Elladan’s arm and groaned as another shudder shook him.
    “I shall deny everything, little brother,” Elladan replied softly.  “Come, we should go now.”  He slid both arms beneath Elrohir and lifted him, placing him carefully on the horse.  He mounted, holding Elrohir gently before him, while Amandil cared for Nólimon.  They set off at a rapid gallop for Lasgalen.
    As they went, Elladan talked to his twin, one hand feeling the pulse in his wrist, while the arm around his chest monitored his increasingly laboured breathing.  To both of them it was a constant reassurance and safeguard.  “El, can you hear me?  Talk to me, El, tell me how you feel.  Do not try to hide anything in an attempt to spare my feelings!” he chided gently.
    The grimace that passed across Elrohir’s face may have been an attempt at a smile.  It may not.  Elrohir licked his lips and swallowed.  “Feel dizzy,” he murmured.  “My arm hurts.”  A tremor shook him.  “It hurts, El – Amandil was right.”
    “Shh.  I know.   Try to tell me what this is doing, so I know how to help you.  Can you do that?”  He could feel warm blood seeping through Elrohir’s sleeve – the bite was not closing.  “Your arm is still bleeding.  It should have stopped by now.  The venom has thinned your blood.”
    Elrohir, his head against Elladan’s shoulder, nodded.  “Must be why I feel s-so dizzy.  And my heart – not r-right.”
    Elladan nodded grimly.  He could tell that.  Elrohir’s pulse was very fast, very uneven.  “I know.  Try not to talk now, El.  Just rest – we will soon have you safe and well in Lasgalen.”  Elladan tightened his arms around his twin, holding him more closely.  He despaired at the potency of the venom, if it could reduce Elrohir to this after just a few minutes.
    He could feel Elrohir’s pain and confusion – and his fear.  They were both warriors, prepared to face death in battle; but the prospect of the slow, lingering death Amandil had described, dying by agonising degrees, was horrifying.  “You will be fine, El.  You will be fine.”  He had to be.

    It seemed an eternity before they raced from beneath the trees onto the meadow that lay before Thranduil’s palace.  Startled guards leapt forward to grab at the snorting, lathered horses, as Elladan and Amandil dismounted.  “We were attacked by spiders,” Amandil informed them breathlessly.  “Nólimon and Lord Elrohir have been bitten.  Run ahead and warn the healers!”
    Elladan followed him as they raced along the corridors to the infirmary.  Someone was already holding the door open, and indicated a small room to one side.  It was an inner chamber, windowless and dimly lit by a single lamp.  He placed Elrohir on the bed, but did not relinquish his hold on his brother, looking around frantically to see where the healers were.
    “Move away and let me see to him,” a calm voice instructed.  “I cannot examine him like this.  He was bitten?  How long ago?”
    Reluctantly, Elladan moved back a little, but maintained his grip on Elrohir’s hand.  He looked at the healer, a little dazed.  How could she be so calm?  “Yes – we were attacked at around dawn.  How long ago was that?  A few hours?  We thought we had killed them all, but then another spider, bigger than all the rest, appeared.  El killed it, but – but it bit him.  He will be all right?” he begged her.
    “We will see,” she said, not promising anything.  “Dawn was only about an hour ago – it is as well you got here so quickly.  You said the spider was larger than the others you had seen?  It was probably a female, then.  That is unfortunate.”  As she spoke, she was examining Elrohir, feeling the pulse at his throat, placing her hand on his chest as he struggled to breathe.  Picking up a small bottle, she poured a little into a cup for Elrohir to drink.
    “Not aldain!” Elladan said quickly.  “El – Elrohir said it would be too dangerous.”
    The healer shook her head.  “Of course not.  This will not harm him – it will send him beyond pain for a while.  It is the best I can do for now.”  She looked at Elladan, not seeming in the least offended at being told her job.  “I do know what to do,” she said mildly.
    Elladan nodded abruptly.  “Yes.  Of course.”  He realised that she looked familiar, and groped for her name.  “Forgive me, Tirana – I  was just worried.”
    “I know that.”  Surprisingly, she smiled.  “They say healers make the worst patients, but they are very poor at being anxious relatives as well.”   She bent over Elrohir again, tapping his face gently to gain his attention.  He moaned softly, but his eyes fluttered open.  “Elrohir?  Can you hear me?  I want you to tell me what happened.”
    “You know what happened!”  Elladan burst out.  “He was bitten by a spider!”
    This time Tirana gave him a blistering look.  “And I want to see if he is able to tell me that himself!  Elrohir, what happened?” she asked again quietly.


    Elrohir was aware of a confused jumble of sensations.  There were voices, very many of them, but they were blurred and distorted.  Some were shouting, others spoke more softly.  Even what appeared to be the same voice kept altering oddly in volume, one moment so faint he could barely hear it, the next so loud it reverberated through his aching head.  The light was so bright it hurt his eyes, so he kept them closed – yet he could still see flashes and spots behind his eyelids.  But worse, far worse, were the agonising cramps that wracked him.  He knew he was shaking, too, but was helpless to stop it, unable to control his own body.  The best he could do was to bite his lip and remain silent, and try not to sob his agony aloud for all to hear.
    He could hear one particular voice again and again, sounding strangely familiar.  Concentrating, he tried to put a name, a face, to the voice.  Elladan.  Of course, it was Elladan.  How could he have forgotten? Wherever they were – and that was unclear – he knew that Elladan was with him.  He sounded by turns angry, frustrated, and worried, and seemed to be arguing with someone.  His own name was mentioned.  Were they arguing about him?  Why?
    Now someone was calling him.  Curious, wondering what was wrong, and where he was, he opened his eyes, blinking at the brightness above him.  “Elrohir, what happened?”  The same question had been repeated several times, he realised, but he was not sure of the answer.  A pale blur edged in brown and green resolved into a woman’s face.  She was chestnut-haired, and wore the green tunic of a healer.  “Elrohir, what happened?” she repeated.
    He blinked, and forced his mind to cooperate.  “Sp-spider,” he whispered at last.  “Bit me.”  He gasped, struggling for breath, and tried to will his pounding heart to slow.  He reached out with one hand, and felt Elladan at his side.  “S-sorry, El.  I w-was too slow.”  He tried to cling to consciousness; despite the spasms that felt as if he was being ripped apart; afraid that if he succumbed he might never wake again. But the pain was too great, the lure of the darkness too tempting.  Some bitter liquid was tipped into his mouth and he gagged, then swallowed to escape the foul taste.  While a small part of him still fought in terror of oblivion, a much greater part reached out to welcome it, and he relaxed with relief into a darkness where pain still raged through his dreams.


    Elladan sat with his brother for the rest of that day.  His stubborn twin had resisted to the end, but Tirana’s drugs had finally given him some relief.  It was not enough, though – despite his unconsciousness, Elrohir still tossed and turned restlessly, his body twisted with pain.  Elladan patiently bathed the sweat from his face and body, whispering words of love and reassurance all the while, pouring all the healing skill he had through their bond.  He wished yet again that he had Elrohir’s strength, for his twin’s healing ability had always been far stronger.
    A small stove heated a bowl of water, to which athelas and other herbs had been added.  The fragrant steam filled the room, but for once Elladan took no pleasure in the scent.  It should have eased Elrohir’s breathing, but seemed to have little effect.   All of Amandil’s stark warnings were proving correct.  The intense pain was horrifyingly obvious, and Elrohir burned with fever despite Elladan’s attempts to reduce it.  At times he babbled incoherently about monsters, or moaned incomprehensively of horrors Elladan did not understand.   He felt so helpless – they all were.  Calmacil was Thranduil’s most senior healer, skilled and experienced – out of necessity – in all ailments of the darkness, and more knowledgeable than Elrond himself in the treatment of spider venom.  Yet he too could do nothing more.

    The day passed agonisingly slowly.  Tirana or Calmacil came and went, dividing their attention between Elrohir and Nólimon, who lay in an adjacent room.  As evening drew on, Legolas appeared; straight from patrol by the look of him.  He nodded briefly to Calmacil, mixing more medicines, then knelt on the floor by Elrohir’s bed, gazing at him intently.  He took one limp hand in his, extending the other to Elladan in a wordless display of comfort and support.  “I came as soon as I heard.  How is he?”
    Elladan sighed.  “Still alive – barely.  Look at him – he is scarcely breathing!  He is in such pain, Legolas – I can feel it; I can see it – yet we can do nothing more.  Nothing has any effect any more – and even my father knows of no stronger medicines.  I hate to see him like this.”  As he spoke, Elrohir shuddered again and gave a moaning cry.  His body twisted and began to shake as a convulsion seized him.  All Elladan could do was to hold him gently while it lasted, murmuring soothing, nonsensical sounds to calm his brother.  As it ended, he dashed one hand across his eyes, before starting to gently stroke Elrohir’s head again, as he had been all day.  “I hate to see him like this,” he repeated, his voice shaking.
    He watched as Calmacil poured more water into the bowl simmering on the brazier, and added another handful of herbs.  The fragrant steam crept around the room again, but this time Elrohir’s laboured breathing did not ease.  He sighed, placing one hand on Elrohir’s chest and closing his eyes.  After a moment, his breathing eased, just a fraction, and Calmacil opened his eyes again.  “There is little more I can do for him,” he admitted.  “We must simply wait.”
    “Wait,”  Elladan repeated a little bitterly.  “I hate that.”  He stretched, and eyed Calmacil apologetically.  “How is Nólimon?” he asked.  “I had nearly forgotten that he was attacked as well.”
    Calmacil hesitated, then shook his head.  “He died a few hours ago,” he said quietly. 
    Elladan stared at him in dismay.  He had barely spoken to Nólimon, and the few words he had said had been to snap at him for laughing at Elrohir’s mishap so long ago.  “Oh, no,” he breathed.  “Tell his family – and Amandil – how very sorry I am.”
    Tirana appeared in the doorway, beckoning to Calmacil, and he left.  Now in even greater despair, Elladan resumed his vigil, talking to Elrohir, and explaining briefly to Legolas what had happened during the dawn attack.  Legolas nodded sombrely.  “I know how hopeless this seems.  But some of our warriors have survived.  I did.  Do not give up hope, Elladan.  There is still a chance.”  He looked at Elladan.  “Will you try to rest?  I will watch him, and wake you if – if there is any change.”
    Elladan shook his head even before Legolas had finished speaking.  “No.  I cannot.  I will not waste what little time we may have left by sleeping.  He may not know I am here, but I will not leave him.”
    Legolas smiled.  “I know.  It was worth asking, though.”  He stood, looking down at Elrohir.  “I came straight here from patrol.  I have to report to my father, but I will be back as soon as possible.”  He left, leaving the twins alone.
    The cloth Elladan had been bathing Elrohir’s face with as drying, so he went to the sink, wringing it out in cold water.  He poured a cup for himself, too, realising he had had nothing to eat or drink all day.  The mere thought of food turned his stomach, but he was thirsty.
    He turned at another cry of agony behind him.  Elrohir was shaking again as another seizure gripped him, his body arched with pain.  Elladan dropped the cup into the sink with a crash, and crossed to the bed again.  As he reached it, Elrohir collapsed, falling back limply with a final sigh.  He did not move again.
    Elladan’s desperate cry echoed around the chamber.  “Elrohir!”


    Elrohir existed in a world that held nothing but pain.  Every breath was a torment, and each single heartbeat felt as if a red-hot needle was being jabbed into his chest. Every part of him was in agony, and he no longer knew where he was, or why.  He had no memory of his past; could recall nothing of his name, who he was, or those who loved him.  There was nothing but the black, searing agony that seemed all he had ever known; all he would ever know.
    A fresh wave of excruciating pain swept over him, and he could dimly hear someone moaning, but the sound seemed faint and far away.  Much closer and clearer was a voice, calling to him.  In desperation he seized on the sound of the voice, clinging to it with what little will remained to him.  The voice seemed somehow familiar, much loved, and with an immense effort he managed to turn his head towards the speaker.
    “Elrohir.  Elrohir – can you hear me?  Open your eyes, Elrohir, and look at me.”
    Slowly, Elrohir opened his eyes.  Strangely, he was no longer in the infirmary in Lasgalen, but stood before an immense white archway.  A bright light shone through it, dazzling him, and he could see nothing of the other side.  This time, though, the light did not hurt his eyes. Through the brilliance, a figure approached, growing clearer as he drew near.  As his eyes adjusted, Elrohir could make out more details.  A tall figure stood before him, clad in shimmering light, the radiance coming from the figure himself.
    Awe overwhelmed him, and he bowed his head in deep obeisance.  “Námo,” he breathed.  An aura of love emanated from the being, a curious blend of his parents; his grandparents; everyone who had ever loved and cared for him.
    “Like Eru, I am father to all, my child.”  The thought whispered in the air all around him as another outpouring of love and warmth washed over him, and Elrohir felt as safe and secure as if the being had wrapped him in his embrace.  A dimly held memory came to him; of being cradled at his mother’s breast when he had been a tiny, new-born elfling, surely far too young to have any such recollection at all.  The sense of love and comfort that held him now surpassed even that moment.
    Námo’s voice drifted into his mind again.  “Elrohir, my son, join me now.  Leave your pain behind.  Come with me to my Halls, where there is no more suffering.  Come, little one.”
    Elrohir turned one last time.  Behind him, seeming only a few steps away, he could see himself on the bed in the infirmary; his body twisted in unbearable agony as yet another convulsion shook him.  He could still feel an echo of that pain, but it seemed remote now, dim and far away.  He felt nothing but relief to know that it was over at last.  He turned to Námo again as the Vala asked him with great gentleness,  “Will you come, my child?”
    Elrohir did not hesitate.  He reached out to take the hand that Námo offered him, and nodded.  “Yes.  I will come.”

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