“Elrohir! Estel!” he shouted desperately – then clamped his mouth shut. Whatever had happened, he would not alert any remaining orcs more than he could help. Swiftly he bent to inspect the fallen, ensuring that they were all dead. He would not risk a knife in the back while he tried to find out what had happened to his brothers, but the creatures were all dead.
Finally he allowed himself to return to the tunnel which had collapsed. The tunnel where Elrohir and Estel were trapped. He already knew that they had been caught in the rock fall, for there was only a blank emptiness in the corner of his mind where he usually felt Elrohir’s constant, reassuring presence. He knew his twin was unconscious – but not dead – but knew nothing about Estel.
Thinking of Estel filled him with guilt. His last words to him had been so full of anger – but his anger had not really been directed at Estel himself, but more at his foolhardy actions. He bitterly regretted his angry words now – and could only hope that he would be able to apologise. Yet before he could do that, he first had to find his brothers – both of them.
Wooden supports and lintels shored up the entrance to the tunnel, but only a few feet away a mound of rubble completely blocked the passageway. Somewhere beyond that, Elrohir lay. He stared at the rock fall, forcing himself to think rationally. Elrohir had pursued the orc into the tunnel, and Estel had followed him. The sounds of their pursuit had then faded, so they had presumably travelled some distance down the tunnel. The initial collapse had most likely been caused by some sort of struggle or scuffle, but it looked like it had brought down the roof of the whole tunnel.
Elladan’s first instinct was to start digging, moving rock and rubble with his bare hands until he reached Elrohir and Estel. Yet with the amount of rock he judged had fallen, that would take days – and he did not have days. There had to be a different way – a better way. His best course of action would be to make his way through the branching maze of tunnels and try to reach them by another route. All he had to do was to avoid prowling orc patrols, keep himself from becoming hopelessly lost, and trust that he would be able to find his brothers again in this nightmarish place.
He sighed. Oh yes, it all sounded so simple.
Stepping back, he stared at the bodies littering the passageway. It was impossible to disguise the fact that a fight had taken place, and he had now lost all chance he had had of keeping his presence secret. And yet – he looked at the orcs again thoughtfully. They lay where the two passages merged, and where the two patrols had come together. To a casual glance, it might appear that they had attacked each other. He realised that it was the first piece of luck to come their way in all this long, dark exploration. If any further patrols came across the carnage, perhaps they would assume that the groups had squabbled over priority of way in the narrow tunnels, or about some other trivial issue. Such petty, deadly disagreements were hardly uncommon among orcs.
He turned his attention to the blocked tunnel once more, staring at it and those about him, memorising the layout of the passages and the directions they ran in. To be able to loop around to the other end he would have to carry the map in his head. He sighed again. Elrohir was better at this sort of thing – but Elrohir was not there.
As he bent to pick up his weapons, he felt a sudden surge of fear and confusion from Elrohir. The sense of panic swelled and grew – and then stopped again just as suddenly. His awareness of Elrohir vanished once more, and Elladan rested one hand against the wall, his heart racing. What had just happened? ‘Ah, Elrohir – where are you, little brother? What is wrong?’
<>It was clear he could waste no more time. Choosing a passageway that seemed to run in the same general direction, he ran.
Estel reeled back as the roof above him collapsed with an almighty roar. He cowered against the wall, crouched with his arms over his head, deafened and blinded, and too numb with fear to think. Dust and stones showered him, and he gasped in pain as something heavy struck his back. Fortunately it hit the pack he carried, which cushioned the blow, before the stone crashed to the ground. Finally, as the cascade of rubble eased, he raised his head cautiously, brushing grit out of his hair.
“Elrohir?” He coughed as the dust caught in his throat, then called again. “Elrohir? Are you there?” He blinked several times, his eyes stinging and tearing from the dust, and as his vision cleared, threw himself forward. “Elrohir!”
Elrohir lay on his side, motionless, his eyes closed. He was partially buried under a mound of rock and shattered timber, and covered with a layer of dust, sand, and muddy water. Estel scrabbled desperately at the gritty debris over his brother’s face, clearing his mouth and nose, then reached out with a hand that shook to feel for a pulse.
He rocked back onto his heels in relief. “Oh, thank the Valar – you’re alive! Elladan would kill me if anything happened to you,” he commented inanely. He took a sharp breath, ashamed of his panicked babbling. This was not how he had been trained.
Taking another deep, steadying breath, he pushed his fears and worries aside, and returned his attention to Elrohir, drawing on his father’s teaching. ‘Focus on the injury, not who is injured,’ Elrond’s voice lectured, sounding calm and clear in his mind. He could remember Elrohir quoting the same adage – though his voice had not been entirely steady – as his brother stitched a deep wound on Elladan’s thigh following an accident on a hunting trip for boar. He had wondered then how they did it, how they could maintain their calm rationality and appear so detached. Now he began to understand. They simply did what they had to, and thrust emotion aside. Now it was his turn to ignore – if he could – personal feelings and concentrate on the healing. He used the back of his hand – which was marginally less filthy than his fingers – to touch Elrohir’s face lightly. “Elrohir? Can you hear me?”
There was no response. Pulling the pack off his back, Estel uncorked his water skin and splashed a little over his hands, wiping as much of the dirt off as possible before beginning his examination.
He ran his hands over Elrohir’s head, and immediately came across a deep gash. Blood seeped, warm and sticky, between his fingers and congealed in Elrohir’s hair. He felt around the wound carefully, but could find no sign of any fracture. His hands moved lower, checking the pulse again, and across his brother’s chest. Elrohir’s breathing was a little uneven, and Estel already suspected that several ribs were broken. Finding only two was almost a relief.
From the knees down, Elrohir’s legs were still buried beneath the rubble. The dead orc lay nearby, but only its arm and hand were visible. Estel eyed the precarious pile warily. He had to get Elrohir free as soon as possible, but knew that if he moved too incautiously he could cause more of the rock to tumble down and make matters far, far worse.
Sitting back on his heels, he shook his head in dismay. “Oh, Elladan, where are you?” he muttered. “We need you here. Elrohir needs you!” He wondered rather hopelessly where his other brother was, and prayed that he was safe. Elladan – if he was alive – would be aware that something had befallen his twin, and would be desperate to reach them. But how? From the way the roof had started to collapse, and from the prolonged fall of rock, Estel suspected that the whole tunnel was completely blocked. Could Elladan possibly find his way through the twisting maze of tunnels and reach them by another route?
The part of him that had hero-worshiped his brothers since he had been old enough to follow them throughout the whole of Imladris and pester them relentlessly, said ‘yes’. The older, wiser part of him said ‘yes – but when?’ He knew without doubt that Elladan would reach them somehow, or die in the attempt – but by then it might be too late.
He pulled his pack closer wearily, and took a small sip of water. Elrohir’s belongings were nowhere in sight, and therefore probably buried – which meant that they had only half a skin of water between them. Rummaging through the contents of his pack, he pulled out the pouch of medical supplies that Elrond and his brothers insisted he carried at all times. It made an odd rattling noise, and he shook it with a horrible sinking feeling, before opening it carefully. The small glass phials holding herbs and potions and leaves were all smashed, the contents mixed together inextricably, mingled with fragments of broken glass. Most of the medicines he had were useless, and he had nothing that he could use to help Elrohir. He could have cried with despair – but knew that would not help Elrohir either.
He had bandages, a day’s supply of water – if they were frugal – and emergency rations of dried meat, dried fruit, and waybread. There was a tightly-wrapped packet containing a pungent green paste used to calm restless horses, and at the bottom of his pack, carefully folded, a lightweight grey cloak that the twins’ grandmother, Lady Galadriel herself, had given him. A ‘magic’ cloak, Elladan had informed him, his eyes dancing; turning the wearer invisible. He sighed, wishing Elladan was there to tease or scold him now, and gently placed the cloak under Elrohir’s head.
“Just wait,” he whispered. “I am going to move the rocks now, and get you out. Hold on, Elrohir.” Cautiously, taking care to remove the rubble bit by bit, and shifting the stones one at a time, he began to clear the rock and debris that trapped Elrohir. One leg was clearly broken, and he slowed down, working more carefully to prevent further injury.
Elrohir began to rouse, and gave a low moan. Estel stopped what he was doing, whispering more reassurances, and thumbed Elrohir’s eyelids open. The pupils contracted slightly, reflecting the faint torchlight, and Estel nodded to himself. “Good,” he muttered. Then he froze.
Estel twisted round, staring in dismay at the flickering shadows that danced over the tunnel walls. The light was rapidly growing brighter, and now he could hear the hard crunch of heavy feet approaching. He began to dig frantically at the rock that still held Elrohir pinned down, but knew there was not enough time. The orcs were nearly upon them.
Elrohir groaned again, muttering something, and Estel dropped to his knees, his mouth pressed again his brother’s ear. “Hush, Elrohir. Be quiet – you must! There are orcs coming. Just be quiet, and I will lead them away. Please, Elrohir!”
“No … dangerous.” Elrohir struggled to move. “No. Estel …”
Estel could hear the orcs drawing ever nearer. “Elrohir, be quiet!” he hissed desperately.
Driven to despair, Estel tore open the packet of horse tranquiliser and smeared a little onto the palm of his hand. Then he clapped his hand over Elrohir’s mouth and nose, holding him tightly as his brother breathed in. Elrohir struggled briefly, panic flaring across his face, then abruptly went limp. Estel released him slowly, breathing hard. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he whispered desperately, and brushed tears from his eyes. He pulled the cloak from beneath Elrohir’s head and flung it over him, covering him completely. He threw a desperate glance over his shoulder – the orcs were rounding the corner – then looked back at Elrohir. To his amazement, he could not see him at all. The grey cloak blended perfectly with the fallen rock, and the outline of Elrohir’s body looked like another pile of rubble. If he had not known his brother lay there, he would never have guessed.
Estel moved into the shadows and waited, holding his breath. He was torn by indecision. If there were too many orcs for him to tackle alone, he would have to try to lure them away. But that would be fraught with danger. Somehow he would have to draw the orcs after him, then evade them and double back, and find Elrohir again. If he was caught, then Elrohir had little chance of survival. And in the meantime, what if another patrol came by? Elrohir was trapped, alone and totally defenceless. With a sigh, he rejected the possibility unless all else failed. He could not risk Elrohir’s life like that.
He waited, scarcely daring to breathe, hoping fervently that on seeing the rock fall, the orcs would either retrace their steps or continue down the one remaining tunnel. Three orcs emerged from the side tunnel, and stopped dead. They gazed at the rockfall, and one shrugged. “Well, we won’t be goin’ that way again in a hurry,” it commented philosophically. “We’d better go back, and tell the others.”
“Yeah.” Another kicked at the dead orc’s outstretched hand. “Looks like someone got himself squashed. Still, don’t look like it were one of ours.”
The first orc sniffed. “I can smell blood.”
“Well, ‘course you can. This one here’s dead, ain’t he?”
“Nah. Not that.” It stepped forward, closer to the fallen rocks, then looked down. “Here, what’s this?” It pressed down with its foot, then kicked. “There’s something here …”
It ripped back the cloak, then bent and seized Elrohir’s hair, hauling his head up roughly. “Well, look at this …” it began with a low chuckle, pressing a dagger to Elrohir’s throat. “Let’s see this one bleed …”
It fell with an arrow through its eye as Estel burst from concealment. “Leave him alone!” he shouted. The other two orcs dropped where they stood. Estel stepped over the bodies and peered down the tunnel. There was no indication that any other orcs were about, but he was not going to take any chances. This seemed to be a fairly well-used route.
He dug through the rest of the rock and rubble pinning Elrohir down, tossing it into the mouth of the tunnel the orcs had emerged from, and gradually blocking it off. At last Elrohir was freed, and Estel was able to tend to his injuries. Elrohir was still unconscious, and Estel took advantage of this to examine him more thoroughly. His leg was broken, though fortunately not far displaced, and Estel cast around for a suitable splint. There was plenty of wood, but the remaining roof supports were totally unsuitable – heavy, solid pieces of timber that was full of splinters. The orcs’ arrows were ugly, evil looking weapons, the shafts and arrowheads barbed, and covered with a dark, sticky residue. Estel scrubbed his hands against his tunic and used as much of the water as he dared to wash his hands clean again after touching them.
In the end he used two of his own arrows – though he now had only three left. He bandaged Elrohir’s chest and carefully pulled him into the little side chamber, then tucked the grey cloak around him for protection against the chill dampness of the caves. Finally he sat down in the doorway where he could keep watch, desperately weary and close to tears. What was he to do? How could he find Elladan again? How could he possibly get Elrohir out of these nightmarish tunnels and back to safety?
The tunnel curved away from him, and in the end Estel forced himself to move. With the passage behind them blocked, nothing could come that way – so Elrohir was relatively safe for the time being. But what was at the other end? If a troop of orcs appeared, they would be trapped with nowhere to go. Wearily he pushed himself to his feet, checked on Elrohir a final time, and set off along the tunnel.
He did not get far. The tunnel ran without break for a few hundred yards, then ended in yet another sheer drop, overlooking the immense cavern Elrohir had mentioned. Estel lay flat on his stomach and peered out. There were only a few orcs and trolls visible now, and the cavern was in near darkness. Above him, and all around, he could see similar entrances opening onto the cave. He drew back, and sighed. Although the dead end meant that no enemy could now approach them, it also meant that there was no escape that way. They were trapped.<>Back in the small stone chamber, Elrohir was still unconscious. Estel checked him again, then sank wearily to the floor, leaning against the arch of the doorway. There, he could still see Elrohir, but could also look as far as possible along the tunnel – for what, he did not know. Finally he settled into a wary doze, knowing he desperately needed to rest, but still had to be alert to anything that might stir.
Elrohir slowly surfaced through layers of pain and confusion, aware of a throbbing headache, a terrible nausea, and an empty silence. He listened, eyes still closed, slowly trying to establish where he was, and sort nightmare from reality. He could remember that there had been orcs, and a chase, and the roof falling towards him – then nothing.
As his hearing sharpened, he could hear the very faint breathing of another person – but already knew it was not Elladan. Estel? He opened his eyes to the now familiar faint light of Moria, and could just see his littlest brother sitting hunched against a pillar of stone. His head had drooped forward, his hands rested limply on his upraised knees, and he looked utterly weary and dejected.
“Estel?” he whispered. His voice came as a dry croak, but Estel heard him. He raised his head and flashed a sudden smile as he scooted over to kneel by Elrohir’s side.
“Elrohir?” he asked worriedly. “Thank the Valar you are awake! How do you feel?”
“As if a ton of rocks fell on me,” Elrohir murmured.
Estel grinned, and nodded. “I’m glad you can joke about it!” he muttered. He pulled something closer. “Here – I have some water for you. Can you sit up?”
With the help of Estel’s arm beneath his shoulders, Elrohir struggled into a sitting position and leaned back against the wall. The pounding in his head intensified, and he closed his eyes briefly and swallowed against a wave of sickness.
“Elrohir? Drink – just a little.”
He took a sip of water and swallowed it slowly, washing the dust and sour taste out of his mouth, then drank again, feeling a little better. Estel’s voice came again.
“Elrohir? I don’t know where Elladan is. He’s not here. I don’t even know if …” he stopped.
“He is alive,” Elrohir said at once. He groped for the link with Elladan, the pounding in his head making his awareness of his twin more difficult than usual, but he could feel a gnawing anxiety. “He is worried.” He smiled suddenly, feeling a wave of relief wash over him as Elladan sensed him. “A little less worried now, I think; now he knows I am awake.”
Estel shook his head in disbelief. “I still wish I knew how you do that,” he commented. “Can you tell where he is?”
“No. But if he can possibly reach us, he will.”
“I know. But Elrohir, there is a problem. The passage is blocked behind us now, and there is only one way out. The tunnel leads onto the cavern you saw, but high up. I don’t know how he’ll do it.” Estel paused. “There’s another thing. The rock fall – the pack of medicines I carried was damaged. The phials are smashed, all of them, and there’s nothing I can give you for the pain.”
Elrohir shook his head, then winced and drew a careful breath. “I have endured worse – far worse. Do not worry so, little brother.” He closed his eyes again, feeling overwhelmingly tired. He knew his injuries, though painful, were not serious or life-threatening – but they immobilised him very effectively. If it had been Estel or Elladan, he could have healed them – but neither of his brothers had that particular skill.
A soft, distant sound carried into the small chamber. Elrohir tensed and tried to listen. The pain dulled his senses, but he could hear … something. But what?
Estel noticed his distraction, and moved closer. “What is it?” he murmured. “Are you in pain? I wish there was something I could give you, Elrohir – I feel so helpless!”
“Hush,” Elrohir commanded. “It is not that. I can hear something. Nay, not orcs ,” he added swiftly as Estel reached for his sword. “Not unless they have learned to move as quietly as – as an elf.” Hope welled in him, and he listened again. Then he nodded, and gave a sigh of relief. “It is El,” he stated simply. Leaning back against the wall, he closed his eyes and tried to make himself more comfortable.
“Thank the Valar for that!” Estel murmured. Then he moved closer. “Elrohir? Are you sure? Because if not …”
Elrohir opened his eyes again, and smiled. “Estel. It is Elladan – do you think I would not know? He must have found a way to us after all.”
“Maybe,” Estel muttered. However, as the faint sounds moved nearer, he drew his sword, and flattened himself against the wall next to the doorway – standing between Elrohir and the entrance. “I am taking no chances!” he hissed defiantly.
A soft whisper, so faint it could scarcely be heard, reached them. “El. Are you there? Estel?”
Elrohir could have wept with relief. Despite their plight, he smiled as he called back softly, “Here, El. We are here.” He glanced across the little room. “Estel, you can put the sword down now.”
In a few moments there was a slight footfall outside the chamber. Estel tensed, his sword still raised, then slowly lowered it as Elladan ducked through the low entrance. Giving a swift glance around the room, Elladan clasped Estel’s shoulder reassuringly. “Well done, littlest brother. Thank you,” he murmured, then dropped to one knee by Elrohir’s side.
“Well, little brother. What have you managed to do to yourself this time?”First > Previous > Next