Elrohir looked up as Elladan hurried back into the room. “The orcs have returned,” he explained tersely. “They have decided to open up the passage Estel blocked off. We do not have long.”
“Then we have no choice,” Elrohir pointed out. “I have no choice. El, I will need your help.”
Elladan nodded, clearly still not happy about the decision, but accepting the inevitable. “Of course. What do you want me to do?”
“I need you, to block the pain. I may need to draw on your strength, as well – I do not know how hard this will be.”
Elladan nodded again. “You know I will do anything you need.” He glanced at the rest of the pain-relieving tea he had brewed the night before. “Do you want any more of this?” he asked doubtfully.
Elrohir shook his head. “No. I need to keep my wits about me, and keep my head clear. That is why I need you. I want you to block the pain so I am free to concentrate.”
Estel also appeared. “They have gone for the moment – but they will be back.” He glanced at the twins. “Elrohir, are you sure about this? Do you think you can do it?”
Despite his own reservations, Elrohir nodded. “Why not? It cannot be that different. I have to try, at least. And what alternative is there?”
“Can a healer heal himself? Has anyone ever done it before?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Elrohir admitted. He recalled a conversation with his father once, long ago, after a moment of spectacular carelessness with his own dagger had left a deep gash across his palm. With his own healing skills newly discovered, he had watched in fascination as Elrond stemmed the flow of blood and soothed the sharp sting of pain.
“Could – would I have been able to do that?” he asked curiously.
Elrond shook his head. “I doubt it. Very few healers are able to cure themselves – the shock and pain prevents you finding the stillness required. And it would use your strength and energy when you can least spare it. It would not be a good idea, even if you could do it. Fortunately, I have never been in a situation where I had to do so.”
He sighed, and avoided Elladan’s sharp gaze. His brother remembered the discussion too. “If this works, we have a much better chance of getting away from this place,” he continued. “If not, then we are no worse off than before.” That was a rather simplistic way of looking at it, he felt, but more-or-less summed up their options. Most of all, he wanted to be well enough to be able to leave here. He still felt uneasy in this place, aware of the taint of evil that still lingered and the vast mountain range that towered far above them. Yet there was another shadow on his mind, one which he had no explanation for. Since regaining consciousness, he had been plagued by odd memories of events that could not have happened. There had been a hideous nightmare of orcs – he had heard their harsh voices, had smelt their fetid stench. It seemed he could recall trying desperately to warn someone. But it could not have been real – for in the same nightmare the orcs had seized him, pinning him down, their foul hands clamped across his mouth. He could still remember the sharp surge of terror at his utter helplessness that had swept through him.
It had not been real, he told himself again, drawing a deep breath. It had not been real – yet the memory of the nightmare was still so vivid that even now he could smell the same foul, sickly scent from his dream, a scent that seemed somehow vaguely familiar.
He shook his head, thrusting all thoughts of the nightmare to the back of his mind. It had been a fever-dream, a delusion; nothing more. It would not even be the first time he had experienced such bizarre fantasies, though nothing before had been so vivid or terrifying.
Elladan’s quiet voice broke in on his musings. “El? What is wrong?”
“Nothing!” He sighed, and tried again. “Nothing. I just – I just want us to be able to leave this place. I feel uneasy.”
Elladan stared at him, knowing there was more to his denial, but unsure quite what. He shrugged. “Have it your way, little brother. But remember – you do not fool me!” Without waiting for instruction he knelt behind Elrohir, placing his arms loosely around him. “Lean against me,” he murmured. “Take what you need.”
Elrohir closed his eyes and leaned back. The fog caused by the potion he had taken the night before had cleared, and his mind was sharply focused. He could feel Elladan’s solid strength supporting him both physically and mentally, and once again blessed the fluke of luck and life that had made him a twin. The pain lessened immediately as Elladan soothed it and drew it away, leaving his mind clear and alert.
Free now of the pain and discomfort of his injuries, he focused intently on his leg, placing his hands on either side of the break. He was aware of the bleeding and swelling, and concentrated on knitting the broken bones together before turning to the damaged flesh and torn blood vessels. He was fortunate that it was a clean break, and that Estel had reset it so well, for healing had already begun, making his task a little easier.
He could feel the familiar drain on his strength as he worked and the injury slowly repaired. He had done this many times before for others, including Elladan, and had also received healing at the hands of his father on more than one occasion – yet it was odd, and rather disorientating, to feel the warm glow of healing coming from his own hands, to be both healer and healed.
Despite his intense focus within, a part of him was still aware of Elladan silently kneeling behind him, and Estel pacing restlessly nearby. He did not risk healing his leg completely, fearing that to do so would deplete his strength too much. Already he could feel a growing exhaustion, far greater than he would normally expect after what was a relatively minor healing. His father, he mused, had been right all along.
Estel still paced distractingly in the doorway, then abruptly vanished. Elrohir briefly noted his disappearance, but kept his waning concentration on what he was doing. Suddenly, his exhaustion lifted a little as he felt a wave of fresh energy and strength wash through him as Elladan sensed his need. Renewed, he turned his attention to his ribs. The pain and difficulty of breathing lessened immediately, and he drew a slow, deep breath before opening his eyes once more.
He shook his head slightly to clear the cobwebs of weariness that ensnared him, before flexing his leg slowly and carefully. It was still bruised, swollen, and ached fiercely, but he could move it without undue pain. Leaning forward, he unbound the arrows Estel had used as a splint – his little brother was proving surprisingly ingenious – then moved his leg again, bending and straightening it several times.
Elladan was watching anxiously, his attention divided between Elrohir and the doorway where Estel had been standing. “Better?” he asked.
Elrohir nodded. “Yes.” He took another deep breath, then extended his hand to Elladan. “Help me up.” He stood carefully, resting one hand against the rough wall, Elladan hovering at his side. He felt rather dizzy and desperately tired – but he was alive, more-or-less whole, and most importantly, able to move once again. Now, perhaps, they could find their way out of here. He took a cautious step, then another, and crossed to the arched door, limping a little, but confident now that his leg was healed enough for him to walk and climb.
Estel appeared again. “The orcs have come back,” he reported. “They’re arguing about who has to move the stones, but it won’t take them long to break through.”
“Then we leave now,” Elladan announced. “El?”
Elrohir nodded as Elladan began delving through his pack and produced a length of fine rope. “We will use this. Elrohir, you will be in the middle and tied to both of us. I am not risking you falling!” He gave him a look that Elrond had, one that demanded – and got – instant and utter obedience. Elrohir knew there was no hope of swaying Elladan in this mood, and he was not even going to waste what little strength he had remaining in trying. He took the rope meekly, fastening it around himself. It irked him, but he knew he would have demanded the same of his brothers.
They moved towards the open end of the tunnel. As Elladan tied one end of the rope around his own waist, Estel suddenly darted back down the passageway. “One moment!” he called. “Wait for me.”
“Wait for him?” Elladan echoed in disgust. “We should leave him for the orcs! Now where is he going?”
Estel reappeared with two burning brands of wood snatched from their fire. He placed them at the base of the last pair of roof supports, where the wood, tinder-dry, began to burn immediately. Thick smoke drifted back down the passageway, wafted away from the mouth by faint currents of air. “The smoke will make them cough, and when the supports burn through, the roof will collapse again!” he announced with satisfaction. He glanced at the twins. “Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s go!”
Elrohir stared at him in disbelief, then glanced at Elladan. “When did our littlest brother become so very capable?” he asked with a grin.
“Resourceful, as well,” Elladan agreed.
“We taught him well,” they intoned together.
Estel sighed. “I wish you would stop doing that!” he snapped in exasperation. He took the free end of the rope and knotted it about his waist, then nodded at his brothers. “Ready,” he announced.
Elladan moved to the side of the ledge and reached out, finding a secure hand-hold before climbing out onto the cavern wall. Elrohir followed him cautiously. He was not happy about the rope, fearing that if he did fall, he would drag his brothers down too. But when Elladan got that look, there was little point in arguing. He sighed, acknowledging to himself that his twin had a point. He still felt far from well, weak and weary – and their goal was a long way away. He glanced down to the floor of the cave below. A few orcs worked there, but they were occupied with collecting fallen rock and loading it into carts – and hopefully too busy to look upwards. Looking up himself, at the expanse of cave wall stretching ahead, he took a deep breath then followed Elladan upwards, clinging tightly to the rock face and gritting his teeth at the ache in his leg. Ignoring the pain, he concentrated on finding ledges and outcropping stones to place his hands and feet as he climbed.
Slowly they moved up and across the cave wall, aiming for a wide tunnel three levels up where traces of a broken walkway still remained. Elrohir was moving more slowly now, fatigue dragging at him, and he paused, leaning his head against the rock while he caught his breath. He would never have believed that the climb would be so wearying, but as he glanced up at the rotting beams that still seemed so far above, he began to wonder for the first time if he would make it. He drew slow, deep breaths, willing his heart to stop racing, and the black spots dancing in front of his eyes began to recede.
His cramped fingers were locked onto an outcrop of rock, and he had to force them open, slowly releasing his grip and then grimly stretching and reaching for the next crevice, and the next. Sheer determination drove him now; that, and the innate stubbornness that so infuriated Elladan at times.
The effort needed to prise his fingers free each time before edging ever upwards was growing, and he found himself stopping to rest more and more frequently. A movement at his side caught his eye, and he turned his head to look. Estel had drawn level with him while he rested, and now touched his shoulder lightly. “Keep going, Elrohir – I know you can do it,” he murmured.
Despite his exhaustion, Elrohir felt a glow of pride. His little brother had grown so much in the last few days, showing a new maturity that suited him well. “We should be the ones helping and encouraging you,” he protested with a smile as he caught his breath again.
“And you always have,” Estel replied. “But now it is my turn. You know Elladan and I will help you.”
As if in answer, Elrohir felt a slight tug on the rope around his waist, and looked up to see Elladan gazing down at him in concern. “El, can you manage?” he called softly.
Elrohir nodded. “Yes. Yes, I can,” he replied firmly. With a renewed resolve he pulled himself up, began to climb again, and slowly began to draw closer to their goal.
So far they had remained undetected, but a flicker of red was growing below them, and a smell of burning drifted up as Estel’s fire began to rage. Soon there was a rumbling crash, and Estel gave a muffled laugh of delight. “I knew it would work!” he whispered.
They had nearly reached the entrance to the tunnel – Elladan, in the lead, was barely a dozen yards away – when something struck the rock only inches away from Elrohir’s face. Razor sharp splinters of rock flew out and he jerked back, his cheek stinging, and nearly fell as his foot slipped off its precarious perch. There was a sharp tug at the rope around his middle, and he gripped the stones more tightly, heart pounding at his narrow escape, and scrabbled to find a new foothold. Estel gave a muffled curse, and above them Elladan called down urgently. “El! Estel! Keep moving – do not stop!”
Another arrow clattered against the wall near Estel’s hand, and Elrohir saw a spark as the iron tip struck the rock. Fatigue forgotten now, he scrambled upwards, Estel close behind him, as arrows rained down around them. The orcs, fortunately, were not very good shots, their short sight not helped by the poor light. As soon as Elladan reached the safety of the ledge he lay flat, pulling at the rope and hauling his brothers up as fast as he could. Another wild shot missed Elrohir’s eye by a fraction of an inch, but then they were all safely within the tunnel, drawing back into the shadows, arrows still clattering against the rock all around them.
Elrohir sank down onto the ground, leaning against the wall, his eyes closed. He could rarely remember feeling so weary, but knew they could not stop, could not rest. Not yet. It grieved him to flee, but they were in the realm of the orcs here; the dark, narrow, winding tunnels a perfect habitat for the foul creatures. He knew he was still far from well, and although he could defend himself and fight if he had to, his reactions would be slower. His weakness would make him more vulnerable, and could endanger his brothers.
He heard Elladan and Estel talking softly, Elladan in a questioning tone, and Estel, more faintly, replying. Opening his eyes, he saw Estel peering cautiously over the edge of the ledge. “They’ve stopped shooting at us,” he reported. “I think ..” he gave a sigh of exasperation. “I can’t see!” he concluded frustratedly. “It’s too dark.”
“Let me look,” Elladan suggested. He joined Estel at the mouth of the tunnel and stared down into the cavern. “Utumno take them!” he swore. “They have stopped shooting because they must have worked out where we are. I think they are heading this way.”
He swung away from the edge and knelt by Elrohir. “I can let you rest for only a moment,” he said regretfully. “We have to continue soon. The orcs will be here before too long.”
Elrohir nodded. “I know. I heard,” he said simply. He did not have the breath or strength to say more.
“It is safe for you to wait here a moment,” Elladan continued. “Estel and I will go ahead and see if the path is clear – there is time. Stay here.”
Estel looked over Elladan’s shoulder. “Don’t go anywhere!” he added, grinning. Elrohir suppressed a groan. His little brother’s irrepressible good humour could be wearing at times.
As Elladan and Estel slid silently ahead and vanished into the shadows, Elrohir listened intently. Cries and shouts drifted up from below, and a deep, ominous rumbling roar. Curious, he pulled himself forward and peered down. A wave of heat wafted up, and a foul stench of burning – and something else. He was aware once more of the same sense of evil that had drawn them to this place in the first place, the evil that permeated the mines and weighed on him so heavily. Flames leapt up from the cavern below, and it seemed that there was a figure caught within the fire – like an orc, yet appearing by some trick of the light far larger. He shuddered. Despite his hatred for all orc-kind, those he and Elladan killed died cleanly and swiftly. This was a hideous death, even for an orc. Even its sword burned like a tongue of fire. But there was nothing he could do – and even as he came to that realisation, it was too late. The creature raced across the cavern floor and vanished, passing far beneath him with a rush of flame and fire into the shadows below.
He drew back from the edge, his vision swimming again and his head throbbing in time with the drumbeats of the orcs. He leaned against the cave wall again, cursing his befuddled state and wishing his mind was clearer. Breathing slowly, he closed his eyes, resting for a few precious moments until Elladan and Estel returned, and they had to go on.
He was not aware of their approach, but suddenly Elladan was beside him again, touching his shoulder. “Elrohir? Wake up. Elrohir.”
Elrohir jerked back to awareness with a jolt, mortified that he had fallen asleep in such a short space of time. Elladan continued as if he had not noticed. “The way ahead is clear, and we should go while we still can. I do not want us to be trapped again. If we keep moving, we can stay ahead of the orcs. Can you go on now?”
He nodded, and Elladan slipped an arm around his waist and helped him to stand. “I wish I could carry you,” he apologised. “You are not fit to walk any further. But we cannot stay here. Estel and I will help you.” Through the contact with Elladan, he felt a renewal of his flagging energy as his twin subtly lent him more strength again. He drew on their bond gratefully, knowing that if they were to escape this place, he could not be too proud to admit that he needed help.
Buoyed by the brief touch, he nodded again and straightened. “Thank you, El,” he murmured, sliding free of Elladan’s support and pushing him forward. “Go on. Keep watch ahead. I will keep up – I promise.”First > Previous > Next