Elladan waited a moment longer, staring at the dark water – hoping desperately that Bilbur would eventually surface. Then, with a shudder, he slid into the icy depths again. “I will find him,” he promised as he dived into the murk.
The chilling bite of the water was even more agonising the second time, and he stifled a gasp, wondering fleetingly why in all of Arda he was doing this. But there was no real doubt in his mind – every second was vital, and there had been no time for debate. If he had not acted, then his brothers would have taken his place – and Elrohir was certainly far from his best, while Estel was still shaken from his own experience. The dwarves’ dismay at the loss of their companion had made them hesitate – perhaps fatally.
He swam downwards, sweeping his arms before him in wide arcs as he felt all around for some sign of Bilbur. He could not even rely on the security of the rope to guide him, for he had no idea where Bilbur might be. He could have sunk down among the boulders that so nearly blocked the tunnel, or he could have become trapped in the narrow space remaining like Estel had been. He may not ever have made it through the tunnel at all, and could still be on the far side; caught by orcs, dragged down by the weight of his jewelled belt and heavy boots, or simply too terrified to take the plunge in the first place.
He stretched downwards, and his fingertips brushed against slick, wet leather. He grabbed at it desperately, his heart leaping in elation – but then realised it was too small, too light. It was only Estel’s pack.
Disappointment dragged at him as he abandoned the pack again, and he had to force himself to continue the desperate search. He could feel the floor of the tunnel, the jumbled boulders and rubble, but nothing more. He groped upwards again, feeling for the gap by the roof of the tunnel. The tunnel was clear, and with growing unease Elladan pulled himself through the narrow passageway, hating the tight, confined space even more.
Wary of what may be laying in wait for him, he surfaced soundlessly on the far side of the water trap, but only utter darkness and silence greeted him. He knew instinctively that Bilbur was not there, but still called softly into the blackness. “Bilbur?”
No response came. He knew that orcs could not have taken Bilbur – he would have been able to hear and sense the echo of their evil presence – but he began to wonder what other evils may lurk here. Tales of noisome creatures of the dark deeps stirred on the edges of his mind, and he shook his head angrily to clear it of such thoughts. He was no frightened elfling listening to Glorfindel’s spine-chilling stories now. There had to be an explanation – a logical explanation.
He called again one last time, but waited only a few heartbeats before he dived again. This time he dived deep, down into the well of the water trap, trying to feel if Bilbur had sunk down before ever making it through to the other side. There was nothing. With growing despair and bewilderment he groped for the rope and clung to it as he forced himself to squeeze through the water filled tunnel for the third and last time. Finally – weary and disheartened – he turned away from the surface where Elrohir, Estel and the dwarves waited, putting off the moment when he would have to admit defeat, and dived down to retrieve Estel’s pack. He grabbed at the strap hurriedly, but it slipped from his grasp and sank lower, settling among the boulders at the bottom of the water trap. Swearing at himself for his clumsiness, he snatched at it again one final, hopeless time as his lungs began to burn from lack of air.
He drew his hand back in shock as he felt a cold, clammy hand floating limply in the water, still and lifeless. Swearing again, he felt around until he found Bilbur’s hand again, then traced along the dwarf’s arm to the rest of his body, wedged between a stone and the side of the tunnel. He hauled at Bilbur’s arm, and with his other hand tugged at the dwarf’s collar in a frantic attempt to free him.
The water surged around him as someone joined him in the darkness, and he felt Estel’s calloused hand touch his briefly. Together they pulled at Bilbur again, finally freeing him, then swam upwards, dragging the dead weight of the dwarf with them.
They surfaced to a burst of light and exclamations. Eager hands were extended to haul all three of them from the pool and onto the hard floor, surprisingly warm after the frigid water.
Elrohir’s face was white. “Balrog’s balls, El, do not scare me like that! You were gone for far too long. I thought …” his voice trailed away, and he turned to look at Bilbur.
Farin and Nain had pulled their companion from the water, and Náin placed a gnarled hand against his throat, frowning.
“Is he breathing?” Elladan gasped, fighting to draw breath himself.
Náin shook his head curtly. “No. It’s too late.” He looked up at Elladan with a grudging respect. “You did what you could, but it’s too late.” Farin let out a wail of despair and pulled at Bilbur’s arm.
Elrohir pushed Farin and Náin away, and knelt over Bilbur. “Not necessarily!” he snapped. He placed one hand on Bilbur’s chest, and the other on the pulse spot in his neck. “No heartbeat,” he muttered. “El, help me!”
Elladan dragged himself over to Bilbur’s other side as Elrohir began to press rapidly on the dwarf’s chest above his heart. When his brother paused, Elladan began to breathe for Bilbur, exhaling carefully and tilting his head to watch the slow rise of the dwarf’s chest. He and Elrohir had rehearsed this many times, but he had only once before actually put theory into practice, on another elf. Incongruously, the main thought on his mind was distaste at the hairiness of Bilbur’s mouth. He gave the dwarf two breaths, then watched again as Elrohir resumed his own task. Behind him, he was vaguely aware of Estel holding Farin and Náin back, explaining rapidly what they were trying to do.
He breathed again, then sat back abruptly as Bilbur gave a choking gasp and began to cough up water, wheezing harshly. Elrohir sat back as well, his head drooping with exhaustion, but then he leaned forward again, resting his hands on Bilbur. His eyes fluttered closed, and Elladan suddenly realised what he was doing. He knocked his twin’s hands away swiftly. “Stop it, El!” he said furiously. “You have nothing more to give. He is breathing again, and that is enough. It will have to be enough. There is nothing more we can do now.”
Elrohir nodded wearily. “I know,” he murmured. He touched the dwarf’s face lightly. “Bilbur? Can you hear me?”
Bilbur gave another harsh cough, then his eyes flickered open. “By Mahal,” he gasped. “What happened? Am I dead?”
“No,” Farin replied thoughtfully. “The elves saved you.” He gazed at Elladan, Elrohir and Estel with clear admiration. “You have my thanks,” he said very simply. “More than you can ever know.”
“And mine!” Bilbur wheezed, coughing again.
Náin gave a curt nod. “Mine also. Thank you.”
Slowly, Bilbur’s harsh, laboured breathing eased a little, and at last he sat up. Leaning forward, he unlaced his boots and slowly poured water out of them. As Estel picked one up to pass it back, his eyes widened. “Balrog’s balls!” he exclaimed, using the unfortunate expression he had adopted from Elrohir. “These weigh a ton – what are they made of?”
“Iron nails in the soles,” Bilbur explained defensively. “Very hard-wearing.”
Farin gave a snort of exasperation. “Then it serves you right! No wonder you sank.”
Elladan shook his head in bewilderment. He would never understand dwarves. He glanced at Elrohir with a grin to share the moment – and saw to his dismay that Elrohir was still kneeling slumped on the floor where they had been tending to Bilbur. “El?”
Elrohir glanced up, and rose to his feet in a swift, fluid movement that did not fool Elladan for one moment. He said nothing though, understanding his brother’s wish to hide his weariness.
Estel stared at them both uncertainly. “Farin?” he asked. “Should we go on?”
Farin nodded as he got to his feet and gestured along the tunnel. “There should be a guard chamber a little further on, with kindling and firewood. I think we should rest there for a while before we move on.” He and Náin heaved Bilbur to his feet, his arms draped across their shoulders, and Farin continued, “I know you wish to return as soon as may be to give warning, but it will not take long.” He glanced at Bilbur as he spoke. “I think Bilbur should rest.”
Elladan shrugged. He did not really want to delay their journey any longer – the sooner they left this evil place the better, and the sooner they could deliver their warning to Galadriel. But Bilbur was exhausted after his narrow escape; Elrohir looked little better; and Estel was beginning to shiver. And he had to admit that the warmth of a fire, and dry clothes, would be very welcome. He nodded at Farin. “Then lead the way.”
They set off along the tunnel, and Elladan fell into step beside Estel. “You came in after me?” he asked in amazement. “I thought you dreaded the thought of the water trap?”
Estel gave an uneasy shrug. “I do. But it was either me or Elrohir – and I managed to distract him when he was trying to prevent Farin and Náin from leaping into the water. Farin seemed upset,” he added.
Elladan smiled. “Thank you. Well done, littlest brother!” He was not sure which feat impressed him most – that Estel had defied his own obvious fears to come to his rescue, or that he had successfully prevented Elrohir from doing so. “Well done,” he said again.
When they reached the guard room there proved to be a good cache of firewood, and soon a warm blaze was flickering in the centre of the chamber. By unspoken agreement they pooled what dry clothes they had. Tightly wrapped in oiled skins, there were enough cloaks and blankets for all six of them, and dry foodstuffs as well. Farin thrust a cloak and a blanket at Bilbur. “Dry yourself off,” he said gruffly. “And take those wretched boots off as well!”
There was something in his manner – protective and annoyed – that seemed very familiar. Elladan grinned. “I think,” he whispered to Estel and Elrohir, “that Bilbur may well be his brother!”
Farin overheard, and shook his head curtly. “No.” Then he sighed, and added almost reluctantly, “She is my sister.”First > Previous > Next