Along Came a Spider

Chapter 5: Hope Remains

by Jay of Lasgalen

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    Elladan felt overwhelmingly relieved that his parents had come so quickly.  Cold reality told him that it might make little difference in the long run, but their presence could only help Elrohir.  As an elfling he had sincerely believed that they could do anything: that a kiss on a grazed knee would indeed make the hurt go away, that they would always make everything right in his world – somehow.   As he grew, he had realised that even they had faults and limitations; that they were not infallible.  He knew now, realistically, that even his father’s healing skills might not be enough to save Elrohir – but they were here.  Elrohir needed them – and so, Elladan readily admitted to himself, did he.
    Elrond and Celebrían sat on the bed, one each side of Elrohir, touching his face, talking to him, holding his hands.  “Elrohir?  Can you hear me?  Wake up, little one, and greet me.”  Bright tears welled up in Celebrían’s eyes as her soft, whispered endearments received not a flicker of response.  Elrohir remained oblivious to her presence.   Elrond’s fingers were pressed against Elrohir’s wrist, feeling his pulse, and his expression of concern at what he found confirmed all of Elladan’s worries.
    Elladan found he was looking at Elrohir now through fresh eyes, seeing him as their parents surely must.  He had watched his brother’s swift decline through the long, sleepless hours, but only now realised just how much he had faded.  Only a few days ago Elrohir had been vibrantly alive and healthy, aglow with his usual joy of life; his eyes dancing as he teased his twin and joked with Amandil and Nólimon.  Now … Elladan bit his lip as he looked down at his brother.  His skin was sallow and pale, marked only by shadowy bruises and the heat of fever.  His eyes were sunken, and his mouth, usually smiling or laughing; occasionally serious; was slack.
    Elrohir was dying, and Elladan could no longer deny it.
    He sat on the side of the bed, eyes fixed on his twin, watching as Elrond slid one arm beneath Elrohir’s back, lifting him slightly.  The other arm he placed around Elladan’s shoulders, drawing him in as well.  Then Celebrían joined them, repeating the embrace and completing the circle.  They clung together, three of them weeping with the pain of imminent loss.  Despite his anguish, Elladan felt strengthened and comforted by the contact.  The support and love he took from his parents – and gave to them – soothed and eased his soul.  Two voices, blended together, drifted into his mind, reinforcing the message of love.  “We love you, our sons.  Do not leave us.  We love you both.  Stay.”
    At length they drew apart, but remained close, still surrounding Elrohir.  He remained unmoving, and Elladan felt renewed despair. He had so hoped that there would have been some subtle change, some indication at last that his brother may live.
    “Elladan?”  His father’s quiet voice broke into his bleak thoughts.  “Can you tell me what happened?  I read Thranduil’s message, but I want you to tell me.”
    Slowly, rather reluctantly Elladan nodded.  There were aspects of this that he had tried to avoid thinking about.  “It was my fault,” he said at last.  “El wanted to stop, but I was uneasy.  I knew there was something wrong, and wanted to reach Lasgalen as soon as possible.”  He gave a deep sigh.  “If we had stopped as we originally intended to; if I had not made us move on;  if only I had listened to him; we would not have been where we were when the spiders attacked.  El would be safe.  I saw danger.  I saw the spiders – the  battle.  I knew that Nólimon – or someone – would be attacked.  Everything I did to try to prevent this seemed to make it more certain!  Why did I not see that Elrohir was bitten as well?  Why did I not see where it happened?  Why could I not stop this?”  He broke off abruptly as Celebrían leaned forward to touch his arm, aware that his voice had risen to a near shout.
    “Elladan, it is foolishness to blame yourself,”  she told him firmly.  “You have my mother’s foresight, and I know well that the visions are never clear – whether ‘tis the past, the present, or the future.  Tell us what happened.”
    Hesitantly, he began to relate the meeting with Nólimon and Amandil, and the battle with the spiders.  “Nólimon fell, so El and I tried to help him.  That was something I had seen, too!  I saw us both, so thought him safe.  We thought we had killed them all – but there was one left.  I was with Nólimon when El shouted a warning – there was a spider, nearly on me.  I should have seen it!  He killed it, but that was when he was bitten,” he concluded painfully.  “He was defending me.”  He stopped, awash with guilt.
    His mother put her arms around him, hugging him tightly.  “And so you blame yourself?”
    Elladan nodded wordlessly.
    “You can be very foolish at times,”  Celebrían said in exasperation. “What would you expect Elrohir to do?”
    He looked at her in surprise at the unexpected question.  “What do you mean?” he asked, puzzled.
    Elrond enlarged on the remark.  “Do you think he would stand and watch while you were in danger?  Do you really believe he should or could do that?”
    “No, but …”
    “But nothing!  What would you have done in that situation?”  Celebrían  stared at him searchingly, for a moment fully her mother’s daughter.
    Under that gaze, Elladan answered with complete honesty and without hesitation – he could do nothing else.  “I would have done the same – anything I could to protect him, no matter what the danger.”  He sighed with frustration.  “I know that, but it changes nothing!  I still feel responsible.  And the worst of it – I cannot help but feel that this may never have come to pass if I had not changed our plans to prevent it.”
    Celebrían nodded.  “Perhaps.  Perhaps not – none can tell what may have come to pass.   Your grandmother has great power, but even she cannot tell all things.  The visions are dangerous as a guide to deeds.”
    “But if we had only stopped …”
    “No,” Elrond told him.  “It may be that if you had stopped as you planned, you would still have been attacked, both of you, far from Thranduil’s halls or any help.  May-have-beens are pointless.”
    “Perhaps.”  Elladan sighed again and stood, stretching wearily.  He rubbed his eyes tiredly and began to pace around the little room.  “Forgive me – I know I am being foolish.  I just …”  he stopped again.  “I am afraid,” he whispered at last.
    Elrond stood as well, holding Elladan close.  “I know.  Of course you are – so are we.  You are afraid and exhausted.  You have kept Elrohir alive this long – and you are also a foolish elfling.  Elladan, you must rest.  You do Elrohir no good like this.”
    Stubbornly, Elladan shook his head.  “No.  I cannot – not yet.  You must understand.”  He leaned against his father, heartsore and desperately tired.  He felt the familiar touch of Elrond’s mind, and allowed him to pour strength into him.

    It seemed a very long time later that Elladan became aware of another presence in the room.  Reluctantly, he looked up, blotting his eyes on his sleeve, but it was Elrond who spoke for all of them.  “Calmacil.”  For a moment the healer’s mantle replaced that of father.    “What can you tell me about Elrohir’s condition?”
    Calmacil stood at the foot of the bed, surveying them all.  “He has been – and still is – gravely ill.  There have been several times when I feared for his life, as Elladan can testify.   However, as you know, the majority of those attacked do not survive for longer than two days.  Hope remains.  Elrohir was bitten four days ago.  I think –”    He looked across at Elladan and smiled – “I think, as he is still alive, he will be one of the lucky ones.  I think he will live.”
    Elladan felt weak with relief, and sank down onto the bed next to Elrohir.  “He will live?”  he repeated.  “Are you sure?”  As time had gone by, and his twin clung to life so precariously, he had begun to lose all hope that Elrohir may survive – but to hear this was the most wonderful news he had ever heard.  He looked down at Elrohir, and felt the bright smile he knew had transformed his expression fade again.  Calmacil’s words had given him hope, but he would not truly rejoice until Elrohir awoke, and knew him.

    When Calmacil had left, Elrond turned to Elladan again.  “Elladan, listen to me.  You must rest.  You know I will wake you the instant there is any change.  Calmacil is right – hope remains.  If Elrohir has made it this far, he will live.  I know why you resisted before, but it is safe now for you to sleep.  Please, my son.”
    Elladan smiled wearily.  He should have known that his parents – both of them – would be perfectly well aware of the reasons behind his refusal.  He nodded.  “Yes.  Very well.”  He cast a last look at Elrohir – who had still not stirred – and turned to the folding bed stored in one corner of the room.  It was simply a stretcher, resting on two wooden cross supports, with niches carved for the poles to rest in.  It took no space to store and could be assembled in seconds.  Such beds were frequently used in the aftermath of battle – they were easily transported, and lifted the injured off the cold, hard ground.  When the time came to move, the stretcher was simply lifted from the supports without disturbing the wounded.
    He was numb with weariness and anxiety, and stumbled as he dropped onto the cot, reaching out with one hand to touch Elrohir’s lightly.  He sank into sleep immediately, too exhausted to follow the usual path of peaceful dreams, but still restless and troubled.

    He relived the battle, fighting desperately as wave after wave of foul creatures came at him from all directions, even from the trees above.  From the corner of his eye he saw a spider scuttling towards Elrohir from behind, unseen.  He tried to shout a warning, but no sound came from his throat.  He tried to cut his way to Elrohir’s side, but was unable to move.  He watched in despair and fear as the spider reared up to attack – then Elrohir spun around, warned by his well-honed battle senses, killing it.  Elladan heard a cry, but he knew instinctively that it was not Elrohir.  Nólimon was down, and as Elladan knelt over him he heard another cry.  Elrohir.  Turning, he saw another spider, and froze again.  He watched as the creature drew nearer and nearer, helpless to move or do anything to defend himself.
    Then Elrohir was there, between him and the spider, his sword thrusting at it, and they both jerked in pain as the spider bit.  He felt Elrohir’s confusion and drifting thoughts as they raced towards Lasgalen, the pain that racked him.  He shared the black agony that felt as if he was being torn in two, the increasing darkness that encroached on his mind.  He was with Elrohir as he drifted towards death when a final blinding spasm of pain engulfed him in a brilliant white light.
    “Elrohir!  No!”  Sobbing, he struggled to wake and go to his twin, but was once more unable to move.
    A gentle hand rested on his head, stroking his hair, and a quiet voice soothed him, penetrating his nightmares.  “Hush.  You are merely dreaming.  He is still with us.  Hush now, Elladan, and go back to sleep.”  Reassured, he groped blindly for Elrohir’s hand again, and drifted back into sleep, content with the brief contact. 

    It seemed only an instant later that he jerked awake again.  Something was wrong – something was different.  He turned his head suddenly, just as his father was about to touch his shoulder to shake him awake.  “Elladan?  Elladan!  Wake now, quickly!”
    Startled, blinking sleep from his eyes, he sat up, flinging the light blanket to one side.  “Is it Elrohir?  Is he …”
    Elrond nodded, smiling.  “I think he is waking.  Look!”
    Elladan scrambled to his feet and sat on the side of the bed, his eyes fixed on Elrohir.  He moved slightly, his hands twitching – perhaps as he battled the spiders in his dreams.  His head tossed from side to side, and his eyes flickered ceaselessly.  Then he jerked, as if in pain, his mouth opening soundlessly.  Elladan took his hands gently, stilling their restless movement.  “El?” he asked.  “Can you hear me?”
    Elrohir blinked, then his eyes opened slowly.  He blinked again, his gaze at first unfocused, but gradually clearing.
    “Elrohir?  How are you, my son?”
    “Oh, Elrohir!  Thank the Valar!  Are you well?”
    “Welcome back, El.  How do you feel?”
    Elrohir smiled faintly as all three exclamations came simultaneously.  He licked his lips dryly.  “Tired,” he murmured – in what seemed to be a general response to all three questions.
    “Tired?”  Elladan repeated incredulously.  “You have been asleep for the last few days, little brother – how can you be tired?”  He could not control his smile, and grinned at Elrohir.
    Elrond tightened the arm he had around Elrohir’s shoulders.  “Are you thirsty?”
    Elrohir nodded, and licked his dry lips again.  “Yes,” he whispered in a very faint voice.
    Turning to the basin, Elladan poured a cup of water, his hands shaking a little.  He passed it to his father and watched as he carefully held the cup to Elrohir’s mouth.  He took a sip, coughing and choking on the first mouthful as he tried to swallow.  Water trickled from the side of his mouth, and Elladan gently wiped it away.
    Elrohir took another sip, more successfully, and slowly drained the cup.  He leaned back wearily.  “Thank you.”  He smiled as Celebrían drew him close and kissed his brow.  His eyes drifted shut again, and he slept once more, his head resting against his mother’s shoulder.

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