Estel was frozen with horror as the bridge broke apart and fell into the great chasm, too stunned even to cry out.
Elladan – Elladan was dead.
He stared blindly at the black pit, then stumbled as he was pushed roughly aside. Elrohir leapt past him with a despairing cry, flinging himself forward, and Estel at last freed himself from his numbed shock. Throwing his arms around Elrohir, he held his brother back as he shouted Elladan’s name again. “No, Elrohir,” he choked as tears streamed down his face. “No. It is too late.” Elrohir struggled against him, but Estel held on tightly, the tears blinding him. “Elrohir! Listen to me – stop! Please. Not you as well!”
Elrohir swore. “Let go of me, Estel!” he demanded. “Let go!” Suddenly, to Estel’s shock, an elbow slammed back into his stomach and Elrohir broke free, leaping towards the abyss. Winded and doubled over as he gasped for breath, Estel stared as for a terrifying, heart-stopping moment he feared that his brother, maddened by grief, would throw himself into the chasm after Elladan – but instead Elrohir dropped to the ground at the edge of the void, peering down into the darkness. “Elladan!” he called. “Can you hear me?”
“What?” Estel stared at him, still gasping, then dropped to Elrohir’s side. “What is it? Is he there?” He looked down, but could see nothing but a great black pit disappearing into even greater darkness. “Elrohir?”
Elrohir was silent for so long that Estel began to worry again. “I can see him,” Elrohir replied at last. “About fifty feet away, I think. He … it looks like he is caught on something – it is difficult to see what. It is too dark. But yes, he is there.”
Relief hit Estel with all the force of a dwarf’s hammer. He rubbed his sleeve across his eyes and sniffed, then wiped his nose as well. “Sorry,” he muttered to Elrohir.
“Why?” Elrohir sounded surprised. “Tears are no weakness – there is no shame in crying. But …” He paused again, peering down into the darkness, and Estel wondered how he could see anything at all. “I cannot see Náin. It may be that he is lower down – but I think I can see the bottom of the ladder. He is not there.” Elrohir shook his head, talking half to himself. “No.”
Farin and Bilbur were also on their hands and knees on the brink of the precipice, peering down. “Are they there?” Farin asked, squinting into the darkness. “What about Náin?”
Estel exchanged a swift glance with Elrohir, who shook his head again. “I am sorry,” Elrohir began. “I think he fell. I cannot see him.”
Bilbur gave a soft wail, and Estel found himself resting a hand on her shoulder in a vain attempt at comfort. “I am sorry,” he murmured. “He was a brave companion.” He was surprised at his own sorrow. His initial dislike and distrust of Náin after the surly dwarf’s disparaging remarks about Elrohir had been replaced as they travelled by respect and a reluctant admiration.
With a final pat on Bilbur’s shoulder Estel rose and stepped back from the brink of the precipice, searching the shadows on the far side for any sign of orcs. They could not risk dropping their guard, and Elrohir’s attention was focused almost entirely on Elladan. Despite his own anxiety over his brother, someone had to keep watch.
Apart from dead orcs littering the floor, the hall opposite was deserted. There was no trace of any others. A single strand of rope, still swaying slightly, hung from the one remaining support. He cast a swift, anxious look over his shoulder, searching the shadows behind them as well, but nothing stirred. The halls were silent and deserted, and the only sounds he could hear was their own breathing, Bilbur’s soft weeping and a distant roar of water far, far below them
Estel peered down into the chasm again. He could see nothing but the broken bridge, still hanging precariously by one rope. A few splintered planks spiralled out from the single support like the rungs of a twisted ladder, but they soon vanished into the gloom. How could Elrohir see anything? He wished again that he had the Elven eyesight of his brothers – but try as he might, he could see nothing beyond a few feet. “I can’t see anything,” he admitted. “Are you sure?”
“That Elladan is there? Yes.”
Estel shrugged. He knew better than to argue with either of his brothers over this – they both had an uncanny ability to sense the whereabouts and wellbeing of the other. Elladan had once confessed that as a child he had never really understood the point of the game of hide and seek – ‘We always knew where we were,’ he had explained.
Estel looked down again. He could still see no further, but the bridge did not hang limply into the void. There was a tension on the one remaining rope, still attached to a stout wooden pier. The rope was stretched tight, as if there was a weight on it, though it still held for now. He just hoped it was Elladan at the bottom, not an orc. “There is something there,” he breathed. “I think you are right.”
“I know I am.”
“Then what are we going to do?”
Elrohir scrambled to his feet. “I am going to climb down – I have no idea how long that last support will hold. Farin, do you have another rope? I need two – one for me, one for Elladan.” He nodded as Bilbur thrust a coil of rope from her pack at him. “Thank you. I will try to find out what I can of Náin,” he added, “but I do not hold out much hope.”
Tying two loops in the rope, Elrohir slipped the makeshift harness around his body. “I should be able to climb down, but there may be places where you will have to lower me. And when I reach Elladan you will have to support my weight completely – I will need my hands free. Keep me well away from the bridge until then – I fear the slightest touch could bring it down.”
Farin frowned and shook his head. “How fast can you climb? We’ll lower you all the way. It’ll be quicker. We will not let you fall!”
“Elrohir, wait – let me come with you!” Estel begged. “If Elladan is injured, you may need help with him.”
Elrohir nodded. “I know that, and I wish you could help me, little brother. But I will have to go alone. Farin and Bilbur will not be able to hold both of us – let alone Elladan as well. I need you here, Estel.” He handed the end of his rope to Estel and added, “You will hold my life in your hands.”
Estel took a deep breath, recognising the trust Elrohir placed in him. “Yes. I will not let you fall, Elrohir. Will you take the torch with you? You’ll need to see what you’re doing.”
Elrohir hesitated, then shook his head. “No. I will need to keep my hands free – and do not want to risk burning through the rope! I should be able to see well enough. Bilbur, drop the other rope down to me when I call. I will need to tie it around Elladan when I reach him.”
Farin nodded. “You can rely on us. We’ll not drop you!”
Estel looked back at the thick wooden piers that had supported the bridge, two massive tree trunks set in solid stone. A piece of frayed rope trailed from one. He crossed to the trunk and kicked at it. “Farin? Is this oak?”
The dwarf nodded.
“The wood still seems sound. We can tie both ropes around this as an anchor.” He looked back at Elrohir. “We won’t drop you, but I don’t want to take any risks with you and Elladan.”
Elrohir nodded and reached out to ruffle Estel’s hair. “Well thought, little brother.” He smiled. “I am glad you are here with us.” Then, as he sat on the brink of the abyss he added, “Estel – keep a watch out for orcs as well. They were not all killed, and some may still find a way across.”
“I will. And Elrohir – be careful.”
Elrohir gave a quick smile. Estel took the rope with Farin, bracing himself as Elrohir twisted around and slid over the edge, then vanished into the darkness.
As Elrohir lowered himself over the brink of the precipice, he felt the immediate bite of the rope sling he sat in as it dug into him beneath his arms and thighs. Yet the discomfort was minor compared with everything else they had endured, and he ignored it as Estel lowered him with a series of jerks.
The wall was not quite as smooth as he had feared, and he was able to find occasional hand and foot holds as he went down, which eased the pressure of the rope. The darkness grew all around him, and as he looked up he could see only the dim flicker of the torch and the small figure of one of the dwarves – probably Bilbur – standing at the edge looking down. He raised a hand in greeting, though he knew Bilbur would almost certainly be unable to see him.
It was a relief to be finally doing something. He had felt so helpless for so long; first recovering from his own injuries, and then watching as the bridge broke apart beneath Elladan, and knowing that there was nothing he could do to prevent it. There had been one heart-stopping moment of pure terror as Elladan plunged into the darkness, a horror beyond any nightmare – but then he had breathed again, knowing that somehow, impossible as it seemed, Elladan still lived.
He shivered, banishing the recurring image from his mind, though he knew it would return to haunt his dreams. Elladan was alive – but only for as long as the bridge still held. To say his life hung by a thread was only too true.
He peered downwards, but could still see very little. A breath of cold, dank air welled up from the depths far below him. He listened intently, but could hear no sound apart from his own breathing and an occasional muttered curse from above, seeming faint and far away. He felt very alone, suspended here in almost total darkness, and his unruly imagination began conjuring demons and monsters from half-remembered stories – great black winged creatures flying up silently from the depths to snatch him from his perch like a bat would snap an insect out of the air; or the feeling fingers of the Mewlips reaching out from hidden cracks and crevices in the rock. He cursed Glorfindel silently. The tales that had given him nightmares as a child had not been forgotten.
A voice called to him from above, jolting him back to reality. “Elrohir! Are you all right?”
“Yes!” He looked down, and saw Elladan just a few feet below him. His right arm seemed to be entangled in the mesh of ropes, but it was a fortunate thing – it was all that had prevented him from plunging into the void. As he had feared, there was no sign at all of Náin. “I am nearly there,” he called back. “Bilbur, throw down the other rope.”
The second rope came snaking down beside him and he caught at the end of it. Dropping a few more feet he finally drew level with Elladan, who still hung motionless, dangling helplessly over the endless drop. “Stop now!” he called again. “I am going to reach for Elladan. Be ready.”
He wrapped one arm around Elladan’s waist, holding him tightly and tying the spare rope around him. Now, whatever happened, Elladan would not fall. “I have him!” he shouted. “Now wait – I need to cut him free.”
“El, can you hear me?” Elrohir whispered. There was no response, but he continued to talk to Elladan out of habit. “How did you get tangled in the ropes like this? It is just as well, though. It was all that stopped you from falling like poor Náin, I suppose. Now, to cut you loose …”
As he took out his knife, the rope holding him jerked and dropped another couple of feet, accompanied by loud cursing from Bilbur. “Farin, you half-baked nitwit, don’t let go!”
“I didn’t – my boots slipped!”
“I told you – you need iron nails in the soles! Better grip!”
Elrohir did not even have time to smile. The sudden jolt and drop transferred his own weight to the remnants of the bridge, and proved too much. The final supporting strand snapped, and the wreckage of ropes and broken wooden slats fell past him into darkness. Elladan, still ensnared in rope, was nearly tugged from Elrohir’s hold, and Elrohir uttered a fierce and thankful prayer that he had used Bilbur’s rope in time.
There was a yell from Estel. “Elladan! Elrohir – have you got him? Elrohir!”
“Yes!” Elrohir called, his heart beating furiously. “Yes.” He cut through the ropes still twisted around Elladan’s wrist, and the remains of the bridge fell away. “We are safe.” He clung to Elladan, though Bilbur’s rope still held him securely. “Pull us up now.”
Estel’s voice drifted down to them. “We can’t pull you both up at once. Let go of Elladan so that we can get him first. Both the ropes are tied around the bridge support, so you’re quite safe. Tell me when you’re ready.”
“All right – give me a moment.” Elrohir checked the rope around Elladan again, testing the knot, then shook Elladan gently. “El – can you hear me? Wake up. Estel and the dwarves are going to pull you up now. They will not let you fall. Are you ready?”
To his great relief Elladan stirred against him, lifting his head and giving a pale smile. “El,” he murmured. “I thought I might find you down here with me.”
“Elladan – thank the Valar! Are you injured at all?”
Elladan shook his head slowly. “Not really – just my arm.”
“Your arm? Yes – you were tangled up in the ropes from the bridge. It was just as well. It was all that stopped you falling. But the ropes have cut and scraped your arm badly.”
“Not that – anyway, that was deliberate. I wrapped the rope around my arm when I knew the bridge was going to fall and just hoped that some of the supports might hold. But it must have hit the wall harder than I expected.”
Elrohir gave a brief smile, though it faded quickly. “Well, thank the Gods you thought so quickly! But El – what about Náin? What happened to him?”
“Náin – Náin fell.” Elladan’s breath hitched slightly. “I tried to catch him, but he was gone – and that was the last thing I remember.”
Elrohir bowed his head in sorrow. He had feared as much, but it was still a blow. “Ah, poor Náin,” he murmured at last. “He did not deserve to die like that.” He sighed. “But we will have to grieve later – first we have to get you out of here. Estel and the dwarves are going to pull you up, and then we can have a look at your arm.”
Turning his head, he called up to Estel. “Ready now! Look after him, Estel.” He released his hold on Elladan reluctantly, watching as his brother was hauled up the sheer cliff slowly and steadily, until at last hands at the top reached out to grab him and pull him to safety. “We’ve got him!” Estel called. “Now you, Elrohir.”
His own ascent was slow, but at last Farin and Estel were reaching out to seize his arms as he crawled onto the blessedly solid ground at the top of the chasm. He gripped Estel’s arm tightly. “Well done, little brother,” he murmured. Shrugging out of the rope harness, he turned to Farin. “Elladan says Náin fell,” he explained. “I am so very sorry.”
Farin gave a curt nod. “I know. It was what we’d feared.” He sighed, then looked up at Elrohir. “Your brother’s not to blame himself,” he said, his tone gruff. “I doubt there’s anything he could have done.”
“No, but …” Elrohir was amazed at the dwarf’s compassion. He took Farin’s hands between his. “Thank you,” he added, feeling it was rather inadequate. As he glanced down, light from the torch shone onto his hands, and he stared – they were stained red with blood. But not his, nor Farin’s.
“Elladan!” he called sharply, crossing to where Elladan stood rather unsteadily next to Bilbur. “I thought you said you were not badly hurt?”
“I told you – my arm, but it is just a cut.”
Bilbur snorted as she took a roll of bandage from one of the packs. “That’s more than a cut! It’s slashed to the bone. What happened?”
The sleeve of Elladan’s tunic was ripped and torn, and sodden with blood. Elrohir peeled away the ripped fabric as blood poured from a gash that ran the length of Elladan’s inner forearm from elbow to wrist and continued across the palm of his hand. Elrohir drew in his breath. “How did you do that?” he demanded.
“I am trying to tell you, if you would let me!” Elladan retorted. He looked at the bone deep slash and frowned. “It was Náin’s axe. When the ropes broke and we fell, Náin tried to dig his axe into the bridge to anchor himself, but the wood simply splintered apart. He fell. I tried to catch him as he tumbled past me, but there was only his axe. Náin was gone.” He stifled a gasp of pain as Estel turned his arm slightly.
“You tried to hold his axe? Idiot,” Elrohir muttered. He glanced up briefly. “Estel, is there any light? I need to see properly.”
Estel picked up the one remaining torch and scrabbled in his pack for kindling. As the flame caught and burned, he moved closer to his brothers, holding the torch so that the light fell across Elladan’s arm.
Elrohir gave him a swift smile and a nod of thanks, then cast a quick glance across the chasm and all around them. “I need to bandage this now. Estel, hold the torch still and keep watch for me,” he instructed. He took the roll of bandage from Bilbur. “It really needs to be stitched, but there is no time. At least there is no risk of poison, and the cut is fairly clean.” He made swift work of cleaning and bandaging the deep cut, swathing Elladan’s arm from his elbow to his fingers; working with the speed of one long used to treating wounds on the field of battle.
As Elrohir worked, Elladan turned again to the dwarves. “Farin … I am so sorry about Náin. I wish there was more I could have done. I tried – but it was just too late.”
Farin grunted. “You’re not to blame. At least you tried.”
Bilbur nodded. “You did more than anyone could expect,” she added gruffly.
“And perhaps more than Náin would have done,” Farin admitted. “He was beginning to change his mind, but he still didn’t fully trust elves.”
Elrohir glanced up. “Náin was a true son of Aulë. I am sorry he will have no tomb.”
“No tomb?” Farin echoed. “You see it all around you. The whole of Moria is his tomb.” He and Bilbur bowed their heads together, turning away in silent contemplation.
Elrohir finished the bandaging in silence, and finally tucked the ends of the linen beneath the wrappings. “Done,” he said at last. “That will do for now.”
Elladan flexed his hand carefully, then nodded. “Good. I can still hold a sword. And now we had better move. Farin? Bilbur? Are you ready? We have to get out of here.”
Farin clapped Bilbur on the back and turned back to the others. “We are ready. Come now. We are nearly at the gates.”
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