Along Came a Spider

Chapter 4: Unexpected Arrivals

by Jay of Lasgalen

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    Elladan could hear soft sounds of everyday life drifting in from the infirmary.  Here in the small, windowless room, lit only by a single lamp and a small fire, it was impossible to keep track of the time, and he had no idea if it was morning, or night, but outside life continued regardless.
    It seemed strange to Elladan that while all of his attention was here, focused on Elrohir and his struggle for life, elsewhere life was unaffected.  Children would be playing;  people laughing; completely unaware of the desperate fight so near them.
    Legolas had remained with him for several hours, and they talked softly for a while.  At other times they sat in silence as Elladan’s attention had drifted back to Elrohir and he lost track of the conversation.  To his immense relief, Legolas had not repeated the suggestion that he should sleep, nor had Calmacil.  He did not want to have to explain why he refused.
    Elladan knew only too well the reason for his reluctance to take the eminently sensible advice:  he was afraid to.  He was afraid that if he stopped his soft words of encouragement, Elrohir would be lost.  He was afraid that Elrohir would indeed die, and was desperate not to waste any of the precious time they had left together.  He was afraid that Elrohir would die while he slept,  and he would never have the chance to say goodbye.  So he sat, sleepless and exhausted, and waited.
    Legolas had been half-dozing in his chair, his eyes slightly glazed, when he blinked back to full awareness.  He sighed, and stretched.  “I will have to leave you soon,” he said apologetically.  “It is mid-afternoon, and the patrols are due on duty again shortly.  But I will return when I can.”
    Elladan wondered idly how it was that Legolas was aware of the passage of time, here in the depths of his father’s palace, without the light of sun or stars to guide him.  He seemed to have an innate awareness of it, somehow – perhaps because he had lived in these caverns all his life.  He recalled with sudden longing his own home, the light, airy rooms, the wide windows and walkways that seemed to link the rooms seamlessly with the outside.  With the protection of the Bruinen, and his father’s use of Vilya, Imladris was a haven and sanctuary unlike any other.  The thought of his father made him long suddenly that Elrond was here, now, and could ease his fears.
    He looked down at Elrohir again, but there was still no change.  He breathed, he lived, but that was all that could be said.  Elladan sighed, and changed his position a little stiffly, thinking about what Legolas had said.  “The patrols?  Will you be searching for the spiders again?”
    Legolas nodded.  “Yes.  We found several new colonies that had been established.   If they had started breeding, they would soon have been hunting for food.  We are well rid of them,” he added.  “I think we have killed the last of them now, but I have detailed patrols to continue checking until we can be certain.”
    Elladan regarded him sombrely.  “Good.  When I think about how El and I wanted to go on a spider hunt – I never dreamed that this would happen.”  He broke off, tightening his grip on Elrohir’s limp hand.
    “I know.  When I sent poor Nólimon and Amandil to warn you, I had no idea that such a large group was heading in your direction.”  Legolas stood, picking up the cloak he had dropped on the floor when he first arrived.  “Forgive me.  I would stay longer, if I could, but as it is – I need to receive the patrols’ reports, and send out the next searchers.  I had planned to take a few days’ leave while you were here, but postponed it when the first reports of the spiders came in.”  He paused in the doorway.  “Is there anything you need?  Then I will see you later.”

    He left, and Elladan was left alone with Elrohir again.  He placed one hand on his brother’s forehead, hoping that the fever had diminished a little, but the skin was still hot and dry – indeed, there had been no change for hours.  With a soft sigh of frustration, Elladan moved to the small basin, filling a bowl with cold water, and wetting the cloth again.  Yet again he began to bathe Elrohir’s face and neck, wishing futilely that there was something else he could do to lower the fever – but with his twin so deeply unconscious, the usual medications were useless.
    Elrohir’s breathing was still ragged – fast but very shallow.  At times the light, rapid breaths would change, and he would take a deep, shuddering gulp of air before quieting again.  His pulse, too, was irregular, and Elladan could determine no rhythm or pattern to it.  One minute it would be very faint, but so fast it was difficult to distinguish each individual beat.  Then it would slow dramatically, almost stopping completely at times.  Yet each time, just as Elladan was about to lose hope, Elrohir would give a sudden gasp and for a short while his heart would beat normally again.
    Dampening the cloth again, Elladan laid it across Elrohir’s brow, and resumed his vigil. “What am I to do with you, little brother?” he asked softly.  The little inner chamber was nearly dark, and the small fire was dying.
    As Elrohir was.
    Horrified at that insidious thought, he pushed it away, closing his mind on it firmly.  Yet his brother remained pale, unmoving but for the occasional tremor and gasping breath, his only colour the faint flush of fever.
    It seemed he had been at Elrohir’s side for an eternity, holding him, calling him.  He had talked incessantly, wearying of his own voice, offering his twin an anchor, something to cling to when he finally began to regain consciousness.  He had tried to use their bond to follow Elrohir, to show him the path of return, but he seemed lost in darkness.
    “Please, El, hear my voice,”  he whispered.  “Come back to me – to all of us – and wake.  Where are you?  What thoughts haunt your dreams?  Why do you not wake?”
    He had once or twice before sat at his brother’s side like this, when he had been ill or injured, but never before had he been in any doubt that Elrohir would – eventually – awaken.  There had also been a time when he had been the one so desperately ill, and he knew that Elrohir had sat with him then for many long hours.  At that time, his dreams had been dark indeed, for he had believed Elrohir dead.  He had so very nearly chosen death willingly and openly as an escape from that agony.
    He could still face that choice, for his fear was growing that Elrohir was lost, and he wondered what the future might hold.  He did not think he could continue without Elrohir at his side – yet how could he leave his parents; leave Arwen?  Could they endure a double loss?  He prayed that it would not come to that.  “I love you, El.  Please do not leave me.”   He repeated the quiet words like a mantra, over and again, as the room darkened, and the fire flickered ever lower.

    Lost in contemplation, he was unaware of the comings and going in the infirmary outside, and was startled by a light tap on the open door.  Blinking a little – he had not been asleep, but had certainly not been fully awake – he looked up as Thranduil came in.
     “How is he?”  Thranduil asked quietly.
    Elladan shrugged rather helplessly.  “It is hard to say.  Still alive, at least.”  He glanced at the door, gesturing at the infirmary beyond.  “Unlike poor Nólimon.”  He sighed, looking at Thranduil rather apologetically.  “Legolas told me that you were here before.  Forgive me – I had no idea.  I must have been – rather preoccupied.”
    “You were.  I understand.  I understand your fears only too well.  There were times I believed that Legolas would die when he was bitten.”  Thranduil’s expression grew distant at the memory.
    Yet Legolas had lived.  Elladan repeated that to himself again.  Legolas had lived, and Elrohir might also survive – though his hope was growing ever more distant.  “There have been times – times when I feared each breath would be his last,” he admitted.
    Thranduil nodded.  “Aye,” he whispered.  “I remember.  I remember that well.  Yet I remember even darker moments.  There were times when I hoped – no, begged – that each breath would be his last, and put an end to it.”
    That startled Elladan.  Yet, recalling Elrohir’s pain, he could understand only too well.  Even in his despair and panic when he had believed Elrohir had passed, a part of him had been relieved to think that his brother was finally at rest.   Thranduil did indeed understand.  He and Legolas had both been through this torment, and Legolas had not only recovered, he had been restored to his usual merry self.  Elladan just had to hope that Elrohir, too, would survive.
    At his side, Elrohir trembled again slightly, and took another shuddering breath.  “Shh, little brother,” Elladan soothed, taking his hand once more.  “Just rest.  You will soon be well again.”  He leaned back, eyes closing in anguish.  He was not sure he really believed that anymore, but perhaps he could convince Elrohir.  “You will be well again, and we will tell everyone at home about our spider hunt when we return.  Just rest for now.”  Unnoticed, Thranduil left the room silently, leaving the twins alone.

    Elladan placed his other hand on Elrohir’s chest, where he could feel the irregular movements of his breathing and the erratic thud of his heart.  He still burned with fever, and Elladan again wiped his brother’s face with the damp cloth.  He had tried to trickle a little water into Elrohir’s mouth, but it was impossible for him to swallow, and Elladan was fearful of trying again.  If the water went into Elrohir’s lungs, it could kill him.  It meant that dehydration was yet another complication Elrohir faced.   His skin and eyes were dull, and his lips dry and chapped.
    Calmacil had provided all the medicines he knew Elladan would need for his brother, and had also made his trainees and the contents of his store cupboard available.  There was a small pot of salve, and Elladan smeared a little onto Elrohir’s cracked lips.  Wondering if the spider bite yet showed any sign of healing, he removed the dressing that bound Elrohir’s arm, and examined the wound closely.  The surrounding area was reddened and inflamed, and the bite itself still wept a little blood-stained fluid. He bathed it carefully, and was starting to rebandage the wound when Calmacil came in.  “What do you think of this?” he asked.
    Calmacil peered at the bite mark, pressing lightly at the swollen flesh.  More of the red-tinged liquid oozed out, and Elladan wiped it away gently.  “Well?”  he asked Calmacil again.
    “It is healing much as I expected,” Calmacil replied noncommittally.
    Elladan finished rebandaging the wound as Calmacil watched, laying Elrohir’s arm back across his chest.  The sleeve of the loose sleep tunic he now wore slid up his arm, and Elladan frowned at the dark bruises now revealed.  He glanced up at Calmacil in concern. “What is this?”  Pushing the sleeve up fully, he saw four long, blue-black marks – the marks of fingers, he realised.  His fingers.  He had seized his brother’s arm when he feared him dead – but not hard enough to inflict this sort of damage!
    “It is the poison,” Calmacil reminded him calmly.  “It thins the blood – which is why the bite still weeps.”
    Of course.  Elladan had discussed the effects of the spider venom with Calmacil, and internal bleeding was one of them – part of the reason for the intense pain Elrohir had suffered.  He drew back the sheet to Elrohir’s waist, and lifted the loose robe, exposing his brother’s pale body.  His skin was marked irregularly with ugly, mottled bruising where the small surface blood vessels had ruptured.  And his chest – the whole area was one massive bruise where Elladan had tried feverishly to encourage his heart to resume beating.
    “Oh, Elrohir – just look at you!” he murmured, gently running his hands over the damage. “I am sorry I did that to you – but I had to!”   He and Calmacil examined the patchwork of bruising.  Some were the blue/black of fresh damage, while other marks had faded to purple and yellow as the bruises healed.  “Some of this is recent,” he remarked.  “The poison is still potent.”
    Calmacil nodded.  “We have found, in those who survive that long, that the venom lasts for about three or four days.  The effects fade then, as the body heals.  It has been three days since Elrohir was attacked, so we may see a change soon.  Yet there is one thing that puzzles me – I would expect him to be still experiencing great pain, as he was earlier.  As you say, the poison is still potent.  This stillness is – odd.  I do not know what it may mean.  I fear that even if he lives, it will be a long time before he is well.”
    With a weary nod, Elladan turned away from Calmacil, rubbing his hand tiredly across his eyes.  When, he wondered, would he hear good news?  He wished, futilely, that his father was here, or his mother.  Calmacil was expert in the treatment of spider venom, and Elladan himself was quite capable of treating his brother, so there would be little more that even Elrond could do.  But a small part of him – one that had never fully grown up – longed for his parents to hold him, to tell him all would be well.
    He touched the heavy bruising across the chest again, very gently, then replaced the sheet over Elrohir.  Distantly, he could hear soft, urgent voices, and quick, almost silent footsteps.  It reminded him that others here were ill or wounded, and he wondered idly what this newest emergency was. Then, to his utter amazement, he heard a voice just outside Elrohir’s chamber.  “This way, my lord, my lady.  In here.”
    He stared blankly as first his mother, then his father came in, escorted by one of Calmacil’s apprentice healers.  For an instant he wondered if the exhaustion and worry were playing tricks with his mind.  How could they be here so quickly?  But then Celebrían hugged him, placing a soft kiss on his cheek.  “Elladan, my dear.  I am so glad to see you.  How is he?”  Elrond clasped his arm briefly, then turned to Elrohir.
    Elladan shook himself, gathering his wits.  “Not good.  But he is at least still alive.”  He hugged his mother again, then his father.  “I am so very pleased to see you both!” he said in deep relief.  Glancing down at Elrohir, he hoped to see some change there – it would be the crowning glory to this moment.  But his brother remained still, oblivious to the unexpected arrivals. He did not wake.

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