Legolas and Arwen watched as Elrohir scaled the rock wall after his brother. “Your turn next,” Legolas told her. “I’ll go last. I wonder where the cave comes out?” He tried to match their wandering route through the labyrinthine caves against the twisting hallways of Lasgalen, and tracks in the forest. “I think it must be somewhere on the south side of the hill,” he continued, “but I’ve never seen a cave entrance anywhere there. It must be well hidden.” He knew – or had thought he knew – every inch of the forest immediately surrounding Lasgalen itself, every tree and dell. It seemed incredible that a cave entrance like this had been overlooked. It would be interesting to see where he was when his own turn finally came to climb out.
High above them, Elrohir had nearly reached the gap when he suddenly seemed to slip. Arwen gave a slight gasp. “Be careful, El!” she murmured. Recovering himself, he climbed a little higher, and they watched his progress anxiously. He slipped again as the rock appeared to crumble beneath his feet, and both Legolas and Arwen jumped back as a shower of stones and heavier rocks fell around them. “El, be careful!” Arwen cried to her brother again in alarm, her gaze fixed on him. “Legolas, he’s going to fall!”
“Maybe. Arwen, stand well back. If he does fall, or if any more rocks come down, we’re too close. Move away.”
They had no time to react. As the stone Elrohir gripped broke off and fell, Legolas saw a great boulder, loosened by the other movements, come away from the wall, together with a shower of stones, pebbles and soil. Elrohir fell with it, and he heard Arwen give a horrified cry.
Legolas froze as the cascade of rock fell towards him. It was too late to run or jump clear, but he instinctively tried to ward off the falling stones. He ducked in a futile gesture, arms raised protectively over his head as the rockfall hit him.
With a suddenness too quick to feel any pain, darkness fell on him as swiftly as snuffing out a candle.
Elsewhere, deep under Lasgalen, another mapping party was returning to the main caverns with a partially completed chart. “These passages extend further than I ever imagined,” Thranduil commented. “It will take far longer than I originally thought to map them all thoroughly, but at least we have made a start. I wonder if the younglings have enjoyed themselves?”
Elrond was about to respond when he suddenly stumbled, putting out one hand to steady himself against the stone wall. He leaned against the wall for a moment, his eyes closed. Beside him, one of the off-duty warriors who had accompanied the expedition stepped forward in concern.
“My Lord Elrond? Are you well?” Then the warrior turned sharply as Thranduil, too, staggered and nearly fell. His startled gaze moved between the two elf lords, both reeling as if drunk.
Elrond straightened, regaining his composure, and nodded. “Yes. But there is something wrong. The children …”
“Aye. I feel it too. They are in danger.” Thranduil’s voice was steady and his face impassive, but there was a deep anguish in his eyes.
The guard, one of Elrond’s most trusted warriors, a veteran of the Last Alliance, was dismayed. “The young Lords?” he queried. “Prince Legolas?” What disaster was this to affect the heirs of both realms?
Elrond frowned, trying to make sense of the simultaneous three-way stab of fear that had assaulted him. “Aye. Arwen as well, I fear. What has happened to them?” he appealed, to no one in particular.
“We should return to the main halls. I can send out search parties. We will find them. We must.” Thranduil, in truth, was rather at a loss. Here in the chill dank caverns beneath his palace he could sense little of his realm, his natural affinity with the forest lost. Rock and stone did not speak to him as the trees did. Bereft of his own instincts, he would instead rely on the highly trained, well-honed skills of his warriors and guards. They would find Legolas, and his friends. He prayed that they would be found in time.
Elrohir felt a jolt of pure fear engulf him as he fell. Then pain knifed through his shoulder as his arm was nearly wrenched from its socket, and he jerked to a halt. Startled and disbelieving, he looked up into Elladan’s white face. His brother hung half in, half out of the narrow gap, both hands clamped tightly around Elrohir’s wrist. Elladan slithered forward a little further, and they both dropped down a few more inches. “El, don’t!” Elrohir said desperately. “Let go! If I pull you down as well …”
“Don’t worry, little brother – we won’t fall.” Elladan spoke slowly and calmly. “I’ve got my foot hooked around a tree root. Come on. I will not let you fall.” Tightening his grip a little, Elladan gradually wriggled backwards, very slowly, inch by agonising inch, pulling Elrohir with him. As they reached firmer ground, Elrohir was able to grasp with his free hand at the cave mouth, reassuringly solid. He was now able to help himself, grabbing at bushes and branches that overhung the entrance, but Elladan did not relinquish his vice-like grip until they were both out of the cave.
At last Elrohir lay on the icy, snow-covered ground, gazing up at the darkening sky. It was a beautiful sight after the long dark of the caves. They were on the lower slopes of the hill housing Lasgalen, which rose steeply above them. One of the stately beeches which graced the hill had fallen, presumably in the winter’s storms, and where the roots had been ripped from the earth the cave was revealed. Legolas would probably mourn to see the fallen tree, then give thanks to Yavanna for the continued cycle of life … Legolas. And Arwen.
“Arwen,” he told Elladan breathlessly. “Is she safe? And Legolas? Did they get out of the way?”
“I don’t know yet.” Elladan’s voice sounded tense. He was lying flat on the ground again, looking down. Elrohir rose to his knees and cautiously joined Elladan at the cave mouth, peering down into the pitch darkness.
“Arwen? Arwen! Can you hear me? Are you all right? Legolas?” Elladan called down frantically. For a long, heart-stopping moment, there was no reply, and the twins exchanged an agonised glance. “ARWEN!”
Finally, from far below came a slight sound, and Arwen’s voice floated up to them. “Elladan? I’m here. I’m all right, I think.” She sounded odd, tense with fright and shock. She sniffed. “But I saw Elrohir fall, and all the rocks came down as well – they must have buried him!” Her voice wavered again. “El, what are we going to do?”
“I’m here, Arwen,” Elrohir called reassuringly. “Don’t worry, El caught me. But what about Legolas?”
“Elrohir? Oh, thank goodness, I thought you’d been killed!” Her voice broke on a sob of relief. “I – I don’t know about Legolas. I don’t know where he is, I can’t see him, and he doesn’t answer me. I think he must be hurt.”
Elrohir glanced at his brother at this news. “We need to get help,” he breathed. Aloud, he called, “Don’t worry, Arwen. We’ll think of something.” He deliberately made his voice bright and reassuring.
They could both hear her sudden smile. “Yes. I know you will.”
Arwen’s faith in them was touching, but Elrohir wished he felt half as confident. He called again, “Can you see anything, Arwen? What about the torches?”
“We dropped them when the cave collapsed. They went out. I’ve found one, but I haven’t got anything to light it with.”
Elrohir cursed himself for his stupidity. He should have ensured that he and Arwen were both carrying candles, and the means to light them. He pulled off one of his boots, while beside him, Elladan felt in a pocket and extracted two candles and a tinderbox. They pushed the candles inside the boot, together with two further candles and another box that Elrohir had been carrying. A little awkwardly – his arm hurt and it was difficult to move his fingers – Elrohir laced the top closed tightly and leaned into the hole again. “Arwen, I’m going to drop my boot down to you. Move back. You’ll have to feel for it – it’s got some candles and a tinderbox inside. Are you ready?”
Cautiously leaning forward as far as he dared, aware of Elladan holding his feet firmly, Elrohir dropped his boot. He heard it land with a dull thud, then a faint scuffling as Arwen groped her way towards it.
“I’ve got it!” There was silence for a moment, then, “El, did you have to tie the knot so tight? Ah!”
“Sorry, Ar. Have you done it?” There was a faint spark, then a tiny flame flickered into life far below. They could both hear Arwen’s sigh of relief.
“That’s better. I’m going to light the torch as well.” A brighter light appeared, and they could see Arwen gazing up at them. She was very pale, and had a trickle of blood down one side of her face.
“Ar, are you sure you’re all right?”
She brushed at the blood, grimaced, and nodded. “Yes. Really.”
Elladan gave a sigh of relief. “Good. Can you see Legolas now?”
She turned away from them, holding the torch high as she looked. Then she gave a horrified gasp. “Oh, no!” The light wobbled as she moved swiftly toward the cave wall directly beneath them and out of sight.
The twins flung themselves flat on the ground again and inched forward. “Arwen, what is it? Have you found him?”
Her voice trembled. “Yes.”
“Well? Arwen, is he – is he dead?” Elladan sounded as if he feared to say the words.
There was a long pause, and Elrohir found himself holding his breath. The reply, when it came, was marginally steadier. “No. He’s alive, but he’s hurt. Badly hurt. He was hit by the rockfall. El, what are we going to do?”
“Arwen, try not to worry,” Elladan told her firmly. “One of us will run back to Lasgalen and get help. Someone will come soon.” He moved away from the hole, and looked at his brother. “Well?”
“You go, Elladan. You’ll be faster than me.” Elrohir gave the faintest of grins, and lifted his bare foot. “I’ve only got one boot, remember? Go. The sooner you get there, the sooner you can raise the alarm. And take this.” He pulled the map he had been making from his belt. “I know we couldn’t use it to get out, we must have gone wrong somewhere; but it should help. Have you got the other one?”
Elladan shook his head and gave his brother a long look. “No. Legolas had it. All right, I’ll go. Look after Arwen – she’ll be scared.”
“So would I be. But you know she won’t panic. And El – thank you. I think you just saved my life.”
“Of course I did – I’m used to having you around, little brother. I think life would be boring without you.” He turned back to the cave again. “Arwen, I’ll go and get help. Elrohir will stay here and talk to you. I’ll be as fast as I can. Don’t worry!” With a wave, he turned, slithered down the slope to level ground, and ran off through the trees towards Lasgalen.
Elrohir watched as his twin vanished into the dusk and steadily falling snow, then moved back to the cave. Wrapping one hand around a thick branch, he lay flat again, peering down. He could still not see Arwen, but light from the torch flickered dimly. “Arwen? How bad is it?”
Her voice was calm now, matter-of-fact. “Bad. He’s unconscious, there’s a bad gash on his head. He’s trapped under the rubble, but most of it is quite small. I should be able to move it easily.” As she spoke, Elrohir could hear the clatter and clink of the stones as she removed them and tossed them aside. He could also hear the soft murmur of her voice speaking soothingly.
“Who are you talking to, Ar?”
“Legolas. Ada said you can never be sure how much someone can hear, even if they’re unconscious. I’m telling him that I’m here, and you’re here, and that Elladan’s gone to get help.”
Elrohir grinned. He remembered that lesson too. Elrond had given Elladan a blistering reprimand when he had made a comment about a wounded elf brought in for healing, questioning the likelihood of his survival. “Good girl. Arwen, it will be all right; we’ll get you out. Both of you. Father will be here soon, and Thranduil.”
“I know. Do you think he knows already? Thranduil, I mean.”
Elrohir nodded, although he knew Arwen could not possibly see. “He might. Do you remember that time at home, when Legolas nearly drowned? Thranduil arrived long before anyone could possibly have got back to Imladris to raise the alarm. He knew.”
“I wonder if father knows anything? I wish he was here.” She sounded rather forlorn.
Elrohir knew exactly how she felt. “So do I,” he admitted. “Arwen, how are you managing? Does Legolas look any better?”
“Not really. Elrohir, I’ve moved must of the rocks and debris. But there’s a large rock pinning him down, I know I’ll never be able to shift it. It’s across his leg.”
“Then you’ll have to leave it. Don’t worry, just do what you can for him. We’ll just have to wait.”
Waiting was the last thing Elrohir wanted to do. He felt so utterly useless, peering down at his sister, unable to do anything to help. His little sister, who was trapped in a cave with a seriously injured friend. He knew she was frightened and lonely, and desperately worried; however well she hid it, however brave she was being. But at least Arwen was able to do something, could help Legolas. Most of all he wished they could exchange places, that Arwen was here in the safety of the open forest, while he was in her place, or Legolas’s. It might, in some small way, assuage his guilt.
This was, after all, all his fault. It had been his idea to volunteer for Thranduil’s mapping expedition in the first place, his idea to persuade Elladan and the others to join him. He was supposed to be the one who knew about maps – so how had he gone so badly wrong? If only he had taken more care in climbing the cave wall, none of this would have happened – Elladan had managed it without dislodging a single pebble.
Despairingly, Elrohir could only hope that Elladan would soon reach Lasgalen and raise the alarm, and would be able to lead a rescue party back. Then an uneasy thought struck him. How would the searchers ever be able to find their way through the maze of tunnels to the cave? And with the cave wall crumbling and collapsing with every movement, how would Legolas and Arwen ever get out?Stories > First > Next