“Well, little brother. What have you managed to do to yourself this time?” Elladan asked lightly, hiding his concern. He was overwhelmingly relieved to see Elrohir alert and coherent, and to find Estel all but unscathed – but Elrohir was quite obviously injured. He leaned stiffly against the wall, one leg outstretched and bound to a make-shift splint of arrows.
Elrohir looked up. He smiled, but he looked pale and there was still an echo of pain in his eyes. “El. You took your time – what kept you?”
Elladan shrugged. “Nothing much – just a small matter of a rockfall between us, and a few orcs to evade. Now, what have you done?” As he spoke he ran swift, professional hands over Elrohir’s head and peered into his eyes, then held gentle fingers over his leg, not quite touching, and examined the unconventional but effective splint. Although Elrohir tried not to flinch, Elladan did not miss his reflexive movement. “Broken,” he muttered to himself.
Elrohir nodded. “And my ribs. But Estel has dealt with everything very efficiently.” He fell silent, breathing shallowly.
Elladan turned to Estel with an approving grin. “Well, of course he did. I would expect nothing else.” He watched from the corner of his eye as Estel swelled with pride, then added slyly, “After all, look who taught him!”
Elrohir laughed at Estel’s expression, then winced and held his breath. “Stop it El – it hurts to laugh!” he protested weakly.
“Ah, Elrohir – forgive me!” Elladan murmured, contrite. “I know it does.” He turned his head. “Estel, have you given him anything to ease the pain yet?”
Estel shook his head. “No. Nothing. My pack was damaged by the rockfall, and the phials of medicine smashed. And Elrohir’s is buried somewhere back there.” Estel gestured vaguely behind him.
As Estel spoke, Elladan pulled his own pack closer, and began to rummage through it. “Estel, use some of that broken wood to make a fire. I need some hot water. Now, are there any other injuries I need to know about?”
Estel joined him at Elrohir’s side. “A deep gash here,” he indicated, “but no fracture of the skull, and no concussion either, I feel sure. Nothing much apart from that.”
Elrohir waved him away in exasperation. “Stop talking across me as if I was not here – I am not still insensible!” he snapped.
“A little grouchy, are we?” Elladan observed. “Do not worry, Estel – he is always like this if he is ever injured. Elrohir must be the most disagreeable patient you will ever come across!” He spoke lightly, deliberately cheerful, in an effort to take Elrohir’s mind off his injuries, and also to ease the anxiety he saw in Estel. “Is that water ready yet? The sooner I can mix the medicines I need, the sooner we will be spared his grumbling!”
The fire Estel had kindled burned hot and smokeless – there would be no smell of burning to alert the orcs – and the warmth and brightly flickering flames were a welcome relief after the chill dankness and dark of Moria. As soon as the water began to simmer, Elladan took it from the heat and poured it over a mixture of herbs and crushed leaves before leaving the potion to steep. As he waited for it to cool slightly, he folded his own cloak into a triple-thickness mattress for Elrohir and spread it on the floor. He strained some of the concoction into a small cup and passed it to Elrohir, wrapping his brother’s hands around it. “Drink this. It is still warm, and will dull the pain and help you sleep.”
Elrohir pushed the cup away mulishly. “Exactly. I do not want to be drugged – if the orcs return, I do not want my senses dulled. We cannot risk it!”
Elladan regarded him with exasperation. “El, if the orcs do return, you are in no condition to fight anyway! Drink it. You will heal more quickly if you rest. You know that.”
“We cannot stay here until my leg heals,” Elrohir pointed out. “The orcs will be looking for us – they know now that we are here. We have to find a way out.” Despite his protests, he took the cup again and swallowed, grimacing as he did so. “The taste has not improved,” he complained. “Did you forget the honey?”
“We brought essential items only, remember?” Elladan reminded him with a grin, relieved that Elrohir was making this token protest. The day his twin willingly took any form of medicine would be the day he began to worry.
“Honey is essential where your medications are concerned,” Elrohir grumbled. He drained the cup, and passed it back to Elladan. “Satisfied?” He leaned back against the wall with a sigh, closing his eyes wearily. The set, hard line of his mouth softened as he relaxed, and the swift-acting potion began to take effect. “The roof collapsed,” he mumbled. “Estel must have dug me out.”
“Yes, he did,” Elladan agreed. “I feel very proud of our little brother.” He felt his own tension lessening as the gnawing ache of Elrohir’s pain eased, and slid an arm around his brother’s shoulders, helping him to lie down. He waited until he fell asleep, and only then did he leave Elrohir’s side and cross to Estel’s post by the arched doorway. He ruffled Estel’s hair, then sank down with a weary sigh to join him on the floor. “Thank you for looking after him, Estel – you did well. Very well.” He sighed. “And I am sorry I spoke as I did yesterday. I was worried, but that was no excuse to scold you like that. You are not a child – and you have just proved it. Thank you.”
“Well, surely you did not think I would leave him there?” Estel asked lightly.
“No. Never that. But tell me, are you hurt at all?”
“No. I was a little further away, and escaped. But Elrohir was not so lucky.”
Elladan listened as Estel described the scene, and how he had dug so frantically to free Elrohir. “He was unconscious?”
“Yes, for most of the time.”
“There was one moment …” Elladan recalled, “when I felt a sudden wave of panic – of fear – from El, quite unlike him. Then it stopped again, just as suddenly. What happened?”
He was surprised by Estel’s sudden expression of sorrow and guilt. “That was when the orcs came.”
“Orcs? Blessed Elbereth, there were orcs?”
Estel nodded miserably. “I drugged him – I had to, Elladan! He was just regaining consciousness, and was trying to warn me – he knew the orcs were coming. They would have heard him – and if they had found him there, like that, still trapped – I don’t know what they would have done.”
Elladan swallowed sickly. He knew only too well – and Elrohir’s death would have been as slow and cruelly agonising as all the foul arts of the orcs could devise. It was that which had finally broken his mother – not her own torment in the Redhorn Pass, but the tortures inflicted on the unfortunate members of her escort, which she had been forced to witness. He was not sure how long he would have been able to retain his sanity if he had had to listen to Elrohir’s screams echoing through the tunnels and passages of Moria. He shuddered, and pulled Estel close in a brief hug. “You did well, littlest brother,” he whispered. “Very well.”
Estel smiled at him, but then sighed. “Elladan, what are we going to do?” he asked plaintively. “The tunnels behind us are blocked, and the one ahead leads to a dead end. There is no way out.” He stopped, considering his words, and stared at Elladan. “How did you get here? Is there another path?”
Elladan shook his head. “I climbed,” he explained briefly. “But that is not an option with Elrohir. As for what we are going to do …” He echoed Estel’s sigh. “I do not know,” he responded simply. “Elrohir will not be able to move from here for several days. And even then we still have the orcs to worry about. And we still have not found what brought us down here in the first place.” He slammed a fist into the palm of his other hand in rage and frustration. “This entire trip has been a disaster! We should never have come here. And now – ” he glanced across at Elrohir and sighed again. “Estel, get some sleep. I will keep watch. I need to think.”
After Estel slept, Elladan sat alone, deep in thought. How were they to get Elrohir out? They were deep within Moria, and it would take days to retrace their steps to the Dimrill Gate. They could probably make crutches from the broken roof supports, but even then Elrohir would not be able to move quickly or quietly. And how were they to even leave this place? The passages were blocked, and there was no way Elrohir could possibly climb up the side of the cavern to reach another tunnel.
His own journey had been a nightmare of tunnels, dead ends, roof falls and wandering orcs. Some passages branched off into bewildering mazes, but each route had led further and further away from where he needed to be. In the end, in sheer desperation after exploring yet another tunnel that ended in yet another vertical drop into the great cavern, he had gone that way; inching his way across the wall like a spider, finding finger and toe holds where none existed, and hoping against hope that the orcs working below would not look up and spy him. After checking tunnel after tunnel, listening, calling softly and trying to sense Elrohir’s presence, finally – finally – he had found his brothers.
He stretched and yawned, weary from tension and worry, lack of rest, and the ever-present miasma of evil that still hung over them. As far as he could see, they had few options, all equally dangerous and equally impractical. They could try to move from this place now, carrying Elrohir between them and somehow negotiating the yawning chasm of the cavern and hoping that they found another tunnel that would lead them out. They could wait, until Elrohir’s injuries were healed and he was able to move without assistance – but their supplies of food and water were too low. They could manage with very little food for some time, but not without water. Finally, either he or Estel could stay to care for Elrohir, while the other left to get help from the Elven patrols of Lórien – and having only just found his brothers after his desperate search, he had no intention of being parted from either of them again. In any case, no matter what they decided to do, they were left with two major, insurmountable problems – Elrohir’s incapacitating injuries, and how to get out of here in the first place.
A soft voice broke through his musings. “Elladan? I thought of one thing I could try.”
Startled, Elladan turned to where Estel lay between the fire and the doorway. “I thought you were asleep,” he pointed out.
Estel shook his head. “No. I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been thinking. There is one way out perhaps – but I don’t know where it leads. When I was freeing Elrohir, I threw all the rubble into one of the passages to block it off, and to stop any more orcs coming that way. I could unblock it again – just enough to crawl through – and see what is on the other side. I might be able to find a way out.”
“No!” Elladan protested automatically. “No, Estel – it is too dangerous. It is not that I do not trust you,” he added quickly, “but I think we should stay together. I need you here – Elrohir needs you. Whatever we do, we do it together.”
“Then what are we going to do?” Estel asked stubbornly.
Elladan shrugged. “I still have no idea. Estel, go to sleep – you kept watch last night, and none of us slept much the night before that. Rest, and in the morning perhaps things will seem clearer. Perhaps Elrohir will have some ideas – just because he is injured, it does not mean he cannot think!”
Estel nodded. “I hope so.” He lay down again, and for a while Elladan could see the faint glint of his eyes, watching, before the lids finally closed and he slept.
Elladan sat alone in the darkness, alert for any sound or movement. The only activity sounded faint and distant: far-off voices talking and arguing, the occasional clash of metal or weapons, and once, discordant voices raised in some form of song. The harsh harmony made him long for the gentle melodies of Imladris, where elven voices mingled with the music of the streams and waterfalls; and softly, his voice no louder than the breath of the breeze on a summer’s day, he began to sing a song he had known since childhood.
“Elladan, what are we going to do?” Elrohir persisted. They had breakfasted on a little waybread and dried fruit – though ‘breakfast’ was a rather nominal term, as they had lost all sense of the passage of the sun in the outside world. The meal had been spent exchanging their stories – Elladan describing his frantic search, and Estel recounting his feverish attempt to free Elrohir. Elladan noticed that he omitted any mention of having drugged Elrohir. Elrohir himself had little to contribute, but had many questions about Elladan’s exploration of the tunnels and caves.
“There is nothing we can do yet. When you are able, we can either take the path that Estel mentioned, or climb up. That would be best, I think, because we can gain height and reach the upper levels. We just need to wait.”
Elrohir listened silently, contemplating Elladan’s plan. “There is an alternative you have not mentioned,” he suggested. “If I was not injured, we would not be trapped here. If I was not injured, we would be able to continue our search for this shadow of darkness that still haunts us all. If I was not injured – ”
“Stop it!” Elladan commanded. “I know what you are hinting. No, Elrohir. It is too great a risk!”
“I am not hinting at anything!” Elrohir snapped. “It is the only real solution I can see. Elladan, we have to get away from here as soon as we can – the greatest danger we face is being discovered and trapped here. And I am prepared to do whatever I can – whatever I must – to prevent that.”
Estel was looking at them both with puzzlement. “What do you mean? Do what? Elrohir, I wish you would explain yourself, instead of these vague references hinting at something I know nothing about!”
“He means,” Elladan snapped, “that he thinks he could heal his injuries himself – if such a thing was possible, and not far too risky! No, Elrohir – we will find another way. Estel says there may be another way out we can use.”
Estel nodded. “I’ll go and see if I can loosen the stones at the top. Maybe I will be able to see where the tunnel leads.”
Elladan stared at him, torn between two equally unpalatable alternatives. “Very well,” he said at last. “But just look. Go no further than the blockage, Estel – please!”
Estel nodded, and disappeared. Elladan turned back to Elrohir, squatting cross-legged on the floor beside him. He poured a little water and passed it to Elrohir. “I know how difficult this is for you. I know you feel guilty that your injuries are delaying us. But be patient.” He grinned wryly. “I know you are not good at being patient – but please try?”
“Are you claiming that I am not a very patient patient?” Elrohir asked with a slight smile.
“You know you are not. It is your worst fault!” Elladan retorted.
“My only fault,” Elrohir replied with dignity. “It is as well for you that I am not perfect – you would find it impossible to live up to my high standards.” He shifted uncomfortably, unable to hide a grimace of pain as he moved his leg gingerly. “Anyway, stop trying to change the subject. We cannot afford to be patient – how much food and water do we have?”
Elladan sighed. “Not much,” he admitted. “Everything you carried was lost in the rock fall. We cannot rely on finding water down here – even if the springs the dwarves must have used still flow, the orcs are likely to have fouled them. Do not touch the water! We have enough water for perhaps two days – three if we are pushed. No more.”
“And it will take at least a day to get back to the open air,” Elrohir pointed out. He glanced at the cup of water Elladan had given him, now empty. “And you can stop giving me your share, too!”
Elladan did not bother to deny it. “I hoped you would not notice,” he confessed. “Do not worry, little brother – there is still time.”
He turned as Estel reappeared in the doorway, beckoning him. “Elladan? Come here a moment.”
Outside, Estel pulled him further down the passageway, towards the rubble remaining from the roof fall. “Listen,” he said tersely.
From beyond the blockage, ominous sounds could be heard – voices, and faint hammer blows. Elladan moved close to the piled stones, and listened briefly. On the other side, only feet away, the orcs were examining the rubble, and discussing what to do next. “ … an’ I reckon it won’t take us too long to shift this lot,” one growled. “Ere, you, go back an’ get some of the lads, then we’ll ‘ave a go at it. Hurry up!”
His heart sank. Their time had just run out.First > Previous > Next