Elladan awoke first the next morning, and
aches and pains seemed to have intensified overnight, and he moved
stiffly. With a slight groan, he got to his feet and checked on
Elrohir, but his brother still slept, his temperature and pulse both
normal. Elladan breathed a sigh of relief. Elrohir was
stronger by the day, and would soon be fully restored to health.
Ironically, now that they were about to leave the infirmary, he found he was beginning to become accustomed to the passage of time here in the depths of Thranduil’s place, and could tell it was early. He was familiar now with the sounds and routines among the healers, and soon heard movement as breakfast was prepared for those patients able to eat. There was a tap on the door, although it was already open, and Thalion – one of the newest apprentices – entered, carrying a tray laden with bread, honey, and fruit. “Lord Elladan? I have breakfast for you both.” He glanced at Elrohir, seeming a little nervous, and lowered his voice as he set the tray down. “I will leave it here.” He left again silently.
Placing a hand on his shoulder, Elladan shook his twin awake. “El? Elrohir! Wake up.”
Elrohir stirred and slowly opened his eyes, blinking a little. He yawned, then smiled. “Good morning. I assume it is morning? It is hard to tell here!”
Elladan nodded. “Yes, morning. Thalion has just brought us breakfast.” He sat at the foot of the bed, wincing a little, but trying to hide his stiffness from Elrohir. He should have known he would be unsuccessful.
“You look a little uncomfortable, brother dear,” Elrohir observed. “Perhaps you need a massage, or a comforting bath?” He grinned suddenly at some private thought.
“A bath would be an excellent idea,” Elladan agreed. “Breakfast can wait. Come with me, talk with me.”
While Elladan soaked away the stiffness of abused
Elrohir sat on the wide edge of the bath, one hand trailing idly in the
water as they talked. “I want you to consider what revenge we can
on Legolas,” Elladan explained. “I know we cannot
force him to
saddle Calegdal – you were right; it would be cruel. And anyway,
would he find a saddle?”
“I suppose he could ride Alagos,” Elrohir mused. He sounded a little reluctant. “Or better still, you could, and Legolas could ride Gilmith. That way, you would both be on a horse you are unfamiliar with, and you would not have an unfair advantage.”
Elladan gazed at his brother suspiciously. “ ‘I would not have the advantage?’ El, whose side are you on?”
“Yours, of course. But it would be fairer, and Legolas would not have any possible reason to decline,” Elrohir pointed out reasonably.
“No excuse to back out, you mean,” Elladan clarified. “Not that Thranduil would let him – he seems to think this is a matter of Lasgalen’s pride!”
“Well, if the honour of Imladris rests on your sorry shoulders, we shall surely lose,” Elrohir teased his brother. “Legolas and Thranduil need have nothing to fear if that is the case!”
Briefly, Elladan contemplated pulling Elrohir backwards into the water with him. The thought was extremely tempting, but in the end he relented. Elrohir could count himself lucky that Calmacil had not yet officially released him from his care. Besides, the simple fact that his twin was still alive to tease him at all was worth endless insults. Smiling, he leaned back in the water. “If I have to ride that pitiful bag of bones you call a horse, we will lose,” he agreed, in a calculated insult guaranteed to enrage Elrohir. His brother was inordinately proud and fond of his horses. “Perhaps I should lead Legolas into the Luithaduin, so he forgets all about the race – ‘tis our only chance!”
The response was not as expected, for the mirth in Elrohir’s eyes faded suddenly. “The Luithaduin,” he repeated softly. “Nólimon was teasing me about that, about the time I fell in. El, what happened to him? He was bitten as well. Where is he?”
Elladan cursed himself for reminding Elrohir – he had hoped to wait until his brother was fully recovered. He sighed. “He died later that day. I am sorry, El – I did not want to have to tell you.”
“Why not? Were you trying to keep it hidden? I scarcely knew Nólimon, but I liked him. He did not deserve such a wretched death,” Elrohir said rather bitterly.
“None do. While I grieve that Nólimon is dead, I cannot help but rejoice that you are not. Legolas told me that he was buried with all the honours and rites due to a Silvan warrior.” Elladan stood and stepped from the bath, the quiet, light-hearted atmosphere destroyed by their sorrow over Nólimon.
Elrohir said nothing, but silently handed him a towel. He remained silent, deep in thought, as they returned to their room and Elladan dressed.
Over breakfast Elladan tried to lighten his
mood. “Legolas said that a friend of yours is due back from
today,” he said casually.
“Which friend?” Elrohir asked at last.
“Taniquel,” Elladan replied, watching the reaction. He grinned at the sudden smile on Elrohir’s face. What had begun as a case of hero worship on his brother’s side many, many years ago had had been returned, at least in part, and had developed into a close friendship. There was still a deep affection between the two.
“Taniquel?” Elrohir repeated. “Is that why I have not seen her yet? She was on patrol?” He glanced at the loose robe he wore and grimaced. “I need to change.”
Without waiting to be asked, Elladan picked up Elrohir’s pack. “You may not have seen her, but she saw you. She came here that first day, but you were not exactly – coherent – at the time.” He said it teasingly, but Taniquel had been distraught at the sight of Elrohir’s agony, certain that he would die. He had held her as she wept, unable to console her, for he had been convinced of the same, and they cried together. He shook his head in an attempt to erase the memory, and pulled clean clothes, a dark blue tunic and leggings, from Elrohir’s pack. “Here, little brother. You may want to dress more smartly – unless you intend to walk through Thranduil’s halls like that?” He indicated the sleeping robe with a grin.
Elrohir took the clothes from him, then paused. “Why, El?”
“Why what?” Elladan responded, a little puzzled. He wondered what Elrohir meant.
“Why me?” Elrohir asked, clearly continuing his earlier train of thought. “Why did I survive, and Nólimon did not? What makes the difference?”
Elladan shrugged rather helplessly. He had been so caught up, first with Elrohir’s struggle for life, then overjoyed by his recovery, that he had never considered why some lived yet others did not. “I have no idea. I think this is something you will have to ask Calmacil when he comes.” He moved around the little room, gathering together a few belongs that had become scattered and putting them in one of the bags. “I will take these down to our room, then come back here.” He paused in the doorway, staring hard at Elrohir. “Wait for me!”
He hurried down to the room he and Elrohir always used when they visited Lasgalen, carrying the two bags, and dropped them onto to nearest bed. He remembered the first time they had come here, when they had had a furious argument over who would claim the bed nearest the window. Elladan had claimed the right then, much to Elrohir’s fury, with all the virtue and superiority of being first-born. Now he placed Elrohir’s bag on the disputed bed with a smile, recalling that eventful visit. They had been so desperately anxious to see a real spider they had gone on a night-time excursion to find one. He and Elrohir had been frightened out of their wits when a large spider dropped from the trees just behind them; and they had not discovered for many years that the ‘spider’ had been Legolas, with a cloth-wrapped bundle. Even now, knowing it was a fake, Elladan was still half-convinced that the spider had chased them down the path.
He glanced around the room to check that all was ready, and crossed to the window to push it further open. A table with two chairs stood by the window; a fire burned in the grate with two further chairs beside it, deep and comfortable. Books, a chess set, a decanter of wine and two goblets rested on the table.
Elladan recognised the hand of Tionel, Thranduil’s steward, here. Such small, personal touches would never have occurred to his predecessor Lanatus, who had a rather rigid outlook on life, and who had never forgiven the twins for some minor misdemeanour. Happily, Lanatus now archived Thranduil’s library and records, where his pedantry and passion for accuracy were of some use.
All was ready – he just needed to find Elrohir.
As Elladan left, Calmacil came in. “I want
to be quite sure
that you are well enough to leave,” he stated firmly. “Sit
off your robe.”
With a sigh, Elrohir did so, submitting with as much grace as he could muster. He waited while Calmacil felt his pulse and temperature, examined his back and chest, and questioned him closely. He looked at Elrohir’s bitten arm carefully, pressing down on the nearly-healed bite. “Does that still hurt?”
Elrohir shook his head. “Not any more. Calmacil, these bruises – where did they come from?”
Calmacil looked up absently. “Hmm? The venom causes the blood to thin, which leads to bleeding beneath the skin and internally. The slightest pressure can cause this bruising. They seem to be fading and healing well now. Have you experienced any more dizziness? Palpitations? Blurring in your vision?”
Knowing how frustrating it was when a patient prevaricated and denied the obvious, Elrohir answered honestly. “Nothing since yesterday, the first time I stood up. Tirana startled me – I was rather afraid that I would collapse at her feet!” he confessed.
“Mmm. Yes, she told me that. She said that you were gripping the chair so tightly your knuckles were white.” Calmacil chuckled. “Did you think to hide it from her, that she would not notice? She is too experienced for that!” He straightened up from his examination. “Well now, you seem well enough for now. You can go. But be careful, and remember that you will tire more quickly than usual, and sleep more, at least for the next few days.”
“I will. Thank you, Calmacil!” About to dress quickly, eager to leave, Elrohir paused. “I mean it. Thank you, Calmacil – and Tirana – for everything. What you did for me, and what you did for Elladan. He cannot have found this easy.”
Calmacil merely smiled, and waved him away. As he left, Elrohir dressed in the clothes Elladan had left for him. Even the simple act of wearing his own clothes felt better, and he glanced at himself in a mirror. He still looked pale, he decided, but suspected he had looked a great deal worse a few days earlier.
“Ready, little brother?” Elrohir turned to see Elladan leaning against the door frame, watching him with amusement. “I am sure Taniquel will be glad to see you, no matter what you look like,” he continued. “Are you ready? Then let us go.”
They walked from the infirmary, through the halls
to the guest
quarters. Elrohir crossed immediately to the open window, leaning
the sill and gazing out over the trees. He took a deep breath of
air and lifted his face to the breeze. Already he could feel some
his weariness lift, and the slight depression that had dogged him since
waking eased a little. Even the sadness from learning of
death was not so oppressive.
He turned as he felt Elladan’s hand on his shoulder. “Do you feel better, little brother?” he asked quietly.
Elrohir nodded. “Yes, much better. Not quite right, though. Not yet.” Although the light and air soothed him, he felt somehow both listless and restless at the same time.
“But when you consider the alternative?” prompted Elladan.
“Considering the alternative, not too bad, I suppose,” Elrohir agreed with a smile. It was true. Release from the infirmary had done wonders for his spirits. “Come – I want to go down to the stables and see Alagos. I have to explain why you are to ride him tomorrow!”
Elladan gave him a doubtful look and a resigned shrug, but to Elrohir’s relief said nothing, and followed him down to the stables. A barrel half-full of windfall apples stood by the door, and Elrohir took one, biting into it absently.
“Those are for the horses,” Elladan reminded him.
“I know – I was hungry. Alagos will not mind.” Elrohir greeted Alagos, and the horse whickered softly, clearly pleased to see him. He butted his head against Elrohir’s chest and munched on the apple noisily. Scratching Alagos’s ears, Elrohir leaned against him wearily. To his dismay, even the short walk to the stables had tired him. He began to explain to the horse about the race the next day, smiling when Alagos snorted indignantly. “I know, I know – I am sorry too,” he apologised. “I would do it if I could, but think I would not be allowed.”
“You think right, little brother,” Elladan commented from the door. He turned as a clatter of hooves and voices came from the yard, and Elrohir watched as a few newly returned warriors entered.
Among them was Taniquel. Her expression was sombre, and it looked as if she had been crying. She went to Elladan, placing her hand gently upon his arm. “Elladan, I …” She stopped, and bit her lip.
Elladan turned to her with a smile and kissed her cheek. “Taniquel!” he exclaimed. “Welcome home. It is good to see you again.”
Startled, she stepped back. “Elrohir?” she asked him tentatively, with a mixed expression of surprise and hope.
“Is here,” Elrohir replied, stepping out from behind Alagos. He smiled at her stunned expression, and hugged her tightly.
She returned the embrace with a wordless cry. “I thought I would never see you again! I so dreaded coming home this time – the last time I saw you, I thought – I thought …”
“I know what you thought. But I am well now, thanks to Elladan and Calmacil and my father. Calmacil has finally released me from his care, and I came down to see Alagos.” He moved, putting his arm around her shoulders affectionately. “Unfortunately, I had some bad news for him.”
“Bad news? Why?”
Elrohir smiled at her look of alarm. “It is Elladan’s fault. Legolas humiliated him yesterday, so now he wants revenge.” Leaving Elladan to explain, he sat down on a bale of hay and leaned against the wooden partition. He had seen this exhaustion in those he had treated many times before, but knowing why he felt it made it no easier to endure. He could hear Elladan and Taniquel talking about him, but could not summon the energy to protest.
“He looks tired,” Taniquel commented quietly.
“He is. He tries to do too much, too soon.” Elladan sounded exasperated. “Calmacil told him to take care, but you know El. He can be stubborn. He should be in bed!”
“Never mind. Elrohir, have you finished with Alagos? Can you and Elladan help me carry these things to my room?”
Elrohir opened his eyes – when had he closed them? – to see Taniquel and Elladan watching him patiently. “Yes. He does not like the idea, but agrees.” He stood, as Elladan picked up the heaviest bag and slung it over his shoulder. By the time Taniquel had collected a second bag, there was only a blanket left for him to carry. As they walked back to Thranduil’s halls, Taniquel slid her arm through his, and began to tell him about her patrol, and her recent promotion. Her support was so welcome, and so subtle, he could not possibly object, despite his frustration at the necessity.
One thing was certain. Even if he did have to take to his bed for the rest of the day, there was no way he intended to miss the race the next day.