Along Came a Spider

Chapter 7: Challenges

by Jay of Lasgalen

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    Finally alone, Elrohir leaned back against the end of the bed, still trying to establish just what had happened to him.  He had very nearly died, that was clear.  His memory of the whole event was hazy and dream-like, but he knew it had been all too real, and could still feel the heart-pulling wrench as he had turned away from Námo.  What shocked him most was the realisation that if Elladan had not been able to revive him, he would indeed have been lost – condemned to wander for all eternity between Arda and the Halls, a houseless spirit, forever alone.  The thought made him shudder – it was something that had never occurred to him before.
    Another troubling thought was how easily he had given up.  He was a warrior, accustomed to pain and hardship.  He had had his share of injuries in battle and in training, and from childhood accidents.  Others had called him brave and courageous.  Nothing had prepared him for the reality of the pain from the spider bite.  He recalled Amandil’s innocuous words, seemingly so long ago: ‘death comes as a mercy’.  He had not believed it then, had certainly never imagined that he would ever follow that route; would welcome death as an escape from the agony.  It had been so close …
    Yet he had resisted.  He had turned his back on the peace and warmth Námo offered to return – never for a moment suspecting that he could have been dooming himself to a terrible fate.  Would he have been alone in some formless void, unable to see, hear, feel?  Would he have been forever bound to this one tiny room for all time?   Or would he have roamed restlessly, able to see and hear his family, see Elladan, see them grieving for him but unable to touch them or comfort them?  Would he watch them eventually continuing with their lives, forever unable to communicate with them?  With a shudder, Elrohir pushed his dark thoughts away firmly – that way madness lay.  It had not happened.
    He shifted restlessly, the carved headboard digging into his back, and groped for the pillow that usually padded it.  Then he sighed.  It lay on the floor by the door, where it had fallen after he flung it at Elladan.  That had been a foolish gesture, undignified; a childish fit of pique unworthy of him.  What made it worse was that he had missed.
    Carefully, he sat upright, ignoring the slight dizziness that still lurked, and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.  Of course he was capable of retrieving the pillow himself – it was only a matter of taking a few steps, after all.  Taking a deep breath, he placed one hand on the arm of the chair by the bed to help steady himself.
    “I hope you are not intending to get up yet – did you want this?”  Tirana had appeared in the doorway.  She bent and picked the pillow, holding it with her arms wrapped around it, and fixed Elrohir with a steely glare.
    Startled, he looked up at her.  “Tirana!  I was just – I was going to …”  He felt oddly tongue-tied, and ridiculously guilty, like an elfling caught red-handed stealing biscuits.
    “You were going to what?” she asked coolly.
    Elrohir flushed, but decided he was not going to be intimidated.  He stood, his hand still resting casually on the chair, and took a single step towards her.  “I was about to pick this up.”  He took the pillow from her and threw it onto the bed behind him, hoping it was not too obvious just how hard he was gripping the chair to support himself; but he was tired of being fussed at and told what to do.  “Thank you.”  He sat down again before he fell.
    His small gesture of independence and dignity had boosted his confidence and morale, but he knew it would have been for nought, and deeply humiliating, if he had collapsed and Tirana had had to pick him up from the floor.
    She gazed at him for a moment longer, her mouth twitching.  “They always say that healers make the worst patients,” she commented.  “You should know better!”  She shook her head, then suddenly smiled.  “I shall be glad when you – and your brother – are out of my way.  Now, I came to ask if you want anything.”
    Elrohir was about to decline sharply – he was tired of being asked that; tired of being looked after – when he paused.  There was a point at which pride and independence became obstinacy and stubbornness.  He had seen it often enough in others to recognise it in himself.   Had Elladan been present, his twin would tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he was being ‘bloody awkward’.  More than that, there was one thing Elrohir longed for.  “I would love a bath,” he admitted.  “Could you arrange that?”
    “Yes, of course.  Wait there for a moment.”  She vanished, and Elrohir leaned back against the pillow he had retrieved.  He felt dirty and grimy.  His skin and the loose sleep tunic he wore smelled of stale sweat, and his hair was lank and limp.  There were still traces on his hands of the black spider blood that had splashed him.  A bath would be wonderful.
    He could hear faint splashing coming from the next room, and soon a young apprentice tapped at the door.  He nodded at Elrohir.  “The bath is ready, my lord.  Do you need help?”  He offered his arm as support.
    “Thank you.  I hope I will not need you – but we shall see.  I fear I am still a little shaky.”  Elrohir managed to walk unaided to the bathing room, the young healer hovering anxiously at his side the whole time.
    “Here we are!” the young one said brightly.  “Do you want me to help you wash?”  He quailed under the glare Elrohir turned on him.  “Then – then I will be outside if you do need me, my lord.”  He left, hastily.

The small chamber was dominated by a large stone bath, deep and wide.  Like those in the infirmary at Imladris, it was large enough for two, so that a helpless patient could be supported in the water by one of the healers.  A bright fire burnt in the grate, warding off any chill.  Elrohir stripped off the soiled robe and the bandage wound around his arm, and stepped into the warm, fragrant water.  When he sat, the water came up to his chest, feeling silky against his skin.
    He looked at his arm curiously.  The area where he spider had bitten him was still swollen and rather tender, the skin slightly darkened.  He touched it carefully, but it appeared to be healing well.  There were bruises too, on his arms and across his chest.  How had he sustained those?  He decided he would ask later – it was not important now.  He leaned back, resting his head against the stone rim of the bath, closing his eyes as he relaxed in the warm water, momentarily content.  He was lucky to be alive.
    “So this is where you are.  It is a joy to see you so at ease.”  Elrond’s voice broke in on his reverie, and Elrohir opened one eye, realising he had been drifting off.  “Do you think you should sleep here though?  Elladan, Calmacil and I did not heal you only to have you drown.”
    “I was not asleep,” Elrohir protested drowsily.  “Not quite.”  He reached for soap and a washcloth, and slowly began to clean the blood, sweat and grime from his body.  Finally he ducked his head beneath the water, wetting his hair, and rubbed soap into that at well, grimacing as the bite on his arm began to throb.
    “Let me do that.”  His father pushed his hands aside and finished the task for him.  Elrohir relaxed again under the gentle touch, feeling the familiar warm tingle of healing through the contact boosting his strength.  “Do you think it was wise to dismiss young Thalion?  The spider venom has some lingering effects – it could still cause spells of dizziness.”
    Elrohir submerged a final time, rinsing all traces of soap from himself.  “He was only outside if I had needed him.  He offered to help me bathe,” he grumbled.  “I am not quite that helpless!”  He left the bath, pulling on a loose robe, and sat by the fire, suddenly feeling extraordinarily tired.  There was silence behind him, and he turned to see his father regarding him quizzically.  “That was different,” he protested weakly.
    “Of course it was,” Elrond agreed, inclining his head.   “I was surprised to find you alone – where is Elladan?”
    Elrohir rubbed half-heartedly at his hair, drying it a little, and sighed.  “He went out.  I told him to go – he keeps hovering over me.”
    “He has been worried about you,” his father pointed out.  “We all were.”
    Nodding, he leaned back wearily.  “I know that.  And I know that I would have been equally worried had he been injured.  I do not mean to be ungrateful – but he acts as if I will break.  Earlier, he apologised for sleeping when he was supposed to be ‘watching’ me.  I told him I do not need anyone to watch me, as if each breath could be my last!”  As Elrohir heard his own words and realised what he had said, he stopped abruptly, and swore in a low voice.  “I am a fool,” he admitted.
    “You are.  I spoke with Elladan last night while you slept.   For many days he feared precisely that,” Elrond pointed out quietly.  “Can you blame him for being a little over-anxious?”
    Elrohir closed his eyes and released a long breath.  He shook his head.  “No, of course not.  Forgive me – I find it hard to think clearly at the moment, and there is so little that I recall of what happened.”
    “You should rest.  Come.”
    Elrohir did not protest as his father helped him to his feet, and accepted without argument Elrond’s supporting hand on his arm.  Together they made their way back to his room.   The bed had been stripped, and the soiled, rumpled sheets replaced with fresh linen, the scent crisp and clean.  Elrohir collapsed onto the bed with relief.  He turned over to lay face down, scarcely aware as a blanket was placed over him, and closed his eyes with a faint sigh.  He was asleep almost immediately.


    Elladan returned to the halls of healing towards evening.  He was windswept and flushed with exertion, but the long ride through the forests of Lasgalen had been exhilarating.  It had also blown away the lassitude and slight headache that had lurked as a result of the close confines of Elrohir’s room.
    He was a little surprised to find Elrohir alone, and the room in near darkness.  Using the faint torchlight from the hallway, he lit a small lamp and turned to the bed.  He knelt next to Elrohir and looked at him closely, resting one hand lightly on his head – he simply could not help himself.
    Elrohir slept peacefully, sprawled face down on the bed, one arm crooked around a pillow, the other hanging down limply.  It was his normal sleeping position at home, and somehow immensely reassuring.  If not for the fact that he still slept for long hours, with eyes closed, Elladan could have believed him well.
    He stripped off his mud-splattered clothes, washed and changed.  Legolas had invited him to join Thranduil for supper, along with Elrond and Celebrían.  Elladan had accepted hesitantly, and it was with a slight twinge of guilt that he cast a last long look at his twin and left, stopping briefly to speak with Tirana as he left the infirmary.

    Thranduil’s dining room was aglow with light.  A bright fire burned in the hearth, but the window stood open to the night.  Evening scents drifted in, and a nightingale perched on the sill and sang enchantingly.  It seemed a world away from the enclosed, claustrophobic room where Elrohir lay, and Elladan suddenly wondered if his brother would not be better off in the room they usually shared while in Lasgalen.
    As if in answer to his thoughts, Elrond spoke.  “I talked with Calmacil this afternoon.  He no longer needs to keep a close watch on Elrohir, so tomorrow he can move from the infirmary.”
    “To our usual room?  El would like that,”  Elladan agreed.  “But why tomorrow?  Why not today?  Now?”
    “Because he is asleep, of course!”  Elrond pointed out reasonably.  “I doubt he would thank us if he was carried through the halls.  However, by tomorrow I think he will be able to walk that far.”  He paused briefly.  “Elladan, he will soon be well again.  He no longer needs constant care – allow him a little independence.”
    There was a lull while a servant served the evening meal, and Elladan realised he had only picked at food for the last few days.  He was ravenously hungry, and ate the venison appreciatively.   He felt a slight guilt again, knowing that Elrohir would also have enjoyed this, and leaned back in his seat to murmur to the servant.
    Celebrían, with long years of experience, deftly turned the conversation.  “Legolas, thank you for taking Elladan off today.  You went riding?”
    Legolas nodded.  “We did.  I challenged Elladan to a race – I fear I bruised his pride, for he lost each time!”  He grinned triumphantly at Elladan.
    Elladan moved a little stiffly.  It was not merely his pride that was bruised – Legolas had also challenged him to ride as the Silvan elves did, without saddle or reins.  He could ride in this fashion if he had to, but both he and Gilmith preferred the comfort of a saddle.  To Elladan’s mind, it had been a clear ploy to stop him brooding about Elrohir, and had even worked to a point.  The thought had been kindly meant, even if Legolas now took a slightly malicious delight in Elladan’s discomfort.
    “Have no fear, my friend,”  Elladan responded.  “As soon as Elrohir is well, we will repeat the challenge – on our terms.  I wager that your Calegdal will not take kindly to a saddle!”
    Thranduil looked amused.  “Now that would be a most interesting sight,”  he agreed.  “One which I would dearly like to see.  Be sure to warn me when you hold your next race, so that I may observe!”
    “Father!”  Legolas protested.  “You know that Calegdal has never worn a saddle in his life.  It would be cruelty to him!”
    “Do you decline the challenge, then?”  Elladan asked gleefully.  “Of course, if you feel that you are not a good enough rider …”  he let his voice trail off suggestively, knowing exactly how to provoke his friend.
    Legolas started to protest.  “It is not that, as you well know, Elrondion!  But poor Calegdal – I cannot do that to him!”
    Thranduil shook his head.  “You cannot decline, my son,” he said very seriously.  “It is a matter of the honour of Lasgalen now.   Would you have Imladris win by default?”
    “Is this a conspiracy?” Legolas asked ruefully.  “I see I am outnumbered – I expected a little more support from you, Father!  Very well, then – as soon as Elrohir is well enough.  Lasgalen against Imladris, and may the best elf win!”
    The conversation turned to other matters then, of events in Lasgalen and Imladris, and news of Galadriel and Celeborn in Lórien.  As the meal ended, Elladan rose to his feet, then bent and kissed Celebrían.  “Goodnight, Mother.”
    “Goodnight, my dear.”  She gave him a long look.  “I think the ride did you good – you look better; less tense.”
    Elladan nodded.  “It did, even if my pride – and other parts – is bruised.”  He grinned at Legolas.  “Goodnight to you all – I will see you in the morning.”    It was true, he realised – he did feel more at ease.  The shadow of premonition that had weighed on him since they first rode beneath the eaves of Thranduil’s forest had gone, as was the gnawing worry over Elrohir.

    Returning to the infirmary and Elrohir, he was not surprised to see his brother awake.  He was surprised, though, to see how much better Elrohir looked.  Though still rather pale, the sallow tone had gone from his skin, and his eyes were brighter.
    He smiled.  “You look better.  How do you feel?”
    Elrohir frowned.  “Hungry,” he said with faint surprise.  “When did I last eat?”
    “Apart from Calmacil’s broth – if you can call that food – the night we first came to the forest.  I thought you might be hungry, so I asked one of the servants to keep some of the venison for you.  I guessed you would be awake.”  With impeccable timing, there was a tap at the door, and Thranduil’s servant entered, bearing a tray with a covered dish and a small goblet.  Placing it before Elrohir, he bowed and left.
    Elrohir uncovered the dish and exclaimed with joy.  “Thank the Valar!  Real food at last!”  He ate with relish.  “Calmacil’s broth, though no doubt most nutritious, would benefit from a little flavour,” he pointed out.
    “I have more good news for you,”  Elladan told him.  “Calmacil and Tirana have had enough of us, and you are to be evicted tomorrow.”  He sat at the foot of the bed, and began to relate the events of the day.  As he had expected, Elrohir was most unsympathetic over his aches and pains, and far more concerned about possible harm to the horses.
    “You cannot insist on challenging Legolas to ride with a saddle,” he pointed out.  “For one thing, I doubt there is such a thing in Lasgalen, and for another, Calegdal would never tolerate it!”
    Elladan nodded in agreement.  “I know.  It was fun to tease him, though.  Even Thranduil joined in!   Perhaps another time, though – I want my revenge!”
    After Elrohir finished his meal and the goblet of watered wine, they settled down to sleep.  Elladan knew that there was no real reason now why he should not use the room provided for them, which Elrohir would move to the next day, but there was a tradition to uphold.  Although they had each had their own rooms in Imladris since childhood,  whenever one of them was injured, they shared.  Elladan was not going to be the one to break the habit.  He drifted  into dreams, safe in the knowledge that all was well, that Elrohir would very soon be fully recovered, and that they could finally enjoy their stay in Lasgalen before returning home.

Author’s Notes:  ‘Gilmith’ – grey star.  ‘Calegdal’ – swift foot.

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