Memory of Darkness

Chapter 3: Whispers in the Dark

by Jay of Lasgalen

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Elladan slid down the steep slope from the cave mouth towards flatter ground, and turned in the direction he fervently hoped led to Lasgalen, weaving through the bare, white-frosted trees.  The snow was falling thickly now, laced with sleet, and the icy needles made his eyes sting.  He took careful note of his route so he could retrace his steps – he  was not familiar with this part of the forest at all, and just had to hope he was going the right way.  The way their mapping expedition had gone so disastrously wrong, it would be the last straw if he became lost in the steadily growing blizzard, or was unable to lead rescuers back to the cave entrance. Then help would never reach Legolas and Arwen. 

Before long, however, the clustering trees thinned slightly and he found himself on a narrow path, one that seemed familiar.  He was going the right way.  The path led to a wider track, and ahead, through the swirling snow, he could just see the gates of Lasgalen, closed against the storm, and the sentries who guarded the entrance in all weathers.  They instinctively moved to bar his way as he ran at them out of the gloom, but then must have recognised him, for they stepped aside.

“I need to speak to King Thranduil, or my father,”  Elladan explained breathlessly.  “Do you know where they are?”  He shook himself, sending a small flurry of snow to the ground, and looked enquiringly at the guards.

They both seemed startled to see him.  “My lord, I had no idea you were out in the forest!” exclaimed one.  He turned towards the gates and called a command.  Silently, one of the great doors swung open.  “Is anyone else out there?”

“I need help,”  Elladan said to the guard, as they crossed the bridge into Lasgalen.  “There was an accident, a cave-in.   Prince Legolas and my sister are trapped.  And I think Legolas is badly hurt.  I came back here to get help.  I need to see the king, so that we can go back and find them!”

“What is all this commotion?”  asked a cold voice behind Elladan.  He spun around, his heart sinking as he saw Thranduil’s dour archivist.

“Lanatus!”  He began to explain again.  “I need to find my parents, or Thranduil.  Do you know where they are?”

Lanatus wore his habitual expression of disapproval.  “The King,” he replied, emphasising the title, “is off with your father.  He said something about mapping the tunnels.  I have no idea where your mother may be.”  Nor, his tone implied, did he particularly care.

Elladan sighed with frustration.  Surely there was someone who could organise the necessary rescue parties?  “What about Tionel?  Do you know where he is?”  Thranduil’s steward would be more than capable in an emergency.

As Lanatus shook his head, a door that led into the main hall opened, and Celebrían swept out, followed by Tionel.  “I told you, I have no idea where they are, or if anyone is injured.  But something is wrong, badly wrong.  I can feel it!”  She stopped abruptly at the sight of her son.  “Elladan!”

Celebrían gave Elladan a searching look, taking in his flustered appearance, and embraced him briefly. Her face was white. “What happened?  Where are Elrohir and Arwen?  And Legolas?”

Elladan clasped his mother’s hands.  “Arwen is fine,” he reassured her, “but Legolas is badly hurt.  They’re both trapped in a cave.  El and I got out, so I came back here to raise the alarm.”

Lanatus sniffed.  “You and your brother saved yourselves, but left the prince and your sister behind,” he stated flatly.

No!”  Elladan exclaimed, horrified.  “I would never do that.  El and I were already outside when it happened.  There was nothing else we could do!”

Celebrían interrupted them.  “When what happened, Elladan?  I knew there was something wrong, but cannot tell what it is.”

Elladan explained as succinctly as he could. “There was a cave-in while we were exploring.  We’d got lost, and decided to climb out of the cave.  I went first, but part of the cave wall collapsed as Elrohir was climbing it – I thought he was going to be killed!  I managed to grab him, but Legolas was hit by the rock fall.  We couldn’t get back down to them, so  El stayed there, and I came for help.”

Tionel stepped forward.  “I have already sent for the guards, and alerted Calmacil to prepare his healers.  We can send out search parties in minutes.  But your mother did not know where to look.  Do you have a better idea?”

Elladan was about to reply when a door adjoining the kitchens that led down to the cellars and lower caves opened, and Thranduil emerged, issuing a stream of orders to a few servants and guards he had already encountered.  “… search every inch of those tunnels, they are down there somewhere!  Find them!” he commanded. 

Elrond brought up the rear of the group.  He spotted his wife and son, and went to them, embracing them both.  “Tell me what you know,” he said softly.

Elladan repeated his tale again, aware that Thranduil was listening intently.  He finished, “I left them there, I had to, but Legolas is hurt, and Arwen’s trapped as well, and El is on his own in the forest, in this weather!”  He took a deep breath, combating his near panic.

“Where?”  Thranduil asked simply.

Elladan described the cave and their meandering route, then remembered the map and thrust it at Thranduil.  “There’s something wrong, it’s not complete, because we couldn’t use it to find our way back.  But it’s close.”

Thranduil examined the map, and a half smile lightened his grim expression.  “It helps.  I know where to send the warriors.  Well done.”

“I think Elrohir and I came out somewhere on the south side of the hill.  A tree had fallen, and the roots exposed the cave.  I know the way, I can lead someone back that way, too.”

Thranduil nodded.  “Yes.  I know where the tree fell.   I had not realised it revealed a cave.  Elladan, would you lead the group that goes overground?  We may need to go that way if we cannot get through the tunnels.  Your father and I will use the map and try to locate the cave.”  He turned to the assembled search parties.  “Are you ready? Then go.”

As Thranduil headed one large group to search the sprawling tunnels, Elladan led a second party back through the doors, out into the bitterly cold night, and the swirling, billowing snow.


Legolas gradually became aware of a voice, speaking soothingly and gently, but it seemed to take too much concentration to make out the words.  He slowly realised he had been hearing the voice for a long time.  There was another sound too, a soft moan of pain.  Someone was hurt.  He tried to open his eyes, to see who it was,  who else was there, but it was too great an effort.  He gave up the struggle, and both voices faded into silence.

The first voice was back again, this time calling someone, saying a name.  His name, he realised.  He tried to reply, but was distracted by another cry of pain.  Why did the one calling to him not leave him to sleep, and concentrate instead on whoever had been hurt?

The voice was clearer now, and he began to make out other words as well as his name.  “Legolas?  Legolas, please wake up.  Can you hear me?  It’s Arwen.”  Someone was touching him, stroking his head, a soft hand brushing against his face.  He turned his head slightly, and heard another soft cry, as wave after wave of pain washed over him.

Ai, Elbereth!  It hurt.  Everything hurt.  He suddenly knew he was the one making the pitiful sounds, and bit his lip to prevent another moan.  It felt as if there was a heavy weight across his chest, and every breath sent another sharp stab of pain through him.  There was a throbbing ache across his forehead, and when he blinked, trying to focus his sight, he could not see properly.  And his leg … he bit his lip harder, tasting the sudden salt of blood, and swallowed a cry of pain.  Agony radiated from his leg, and he seemed to be pinned down by a crushing weight.

The voice continued to call him, still gentle and reassuring.  “Legolas, please wake up!”  There was a slight pause, then the voice changed, sounding full of anxiety, louder now.  “It’s no good, El, he can’t hear me.  I keep thinking he’s waking up, but he still doesn’t answer.”

There was something familiar about the voice.  He had heard it before.  Arwen.  It was Arwen.  He tried to speak through the agonising pain, and attempted to respond.

“Arwen?”    He heard nothing but a harsh croak, so swallowed and tried again.  “Arwen?”   His voice was just a faint whisper, but it was enough.

“Legolas?  Oh, thank the Valar!”   Arwen’s voice was gentle again, and full of relief.  “Keep still.  Don’t try to move.”

That was easier said than done.  He could not help shifting slightly, in an attempt to ease the discomfort, and turned towards her voice.  The small movement brought a fresh wave of pain, and he was unable to prevent a slight cry.

“I said don’t try to move!”  Now she sounded cross with him, but why?

“Why not?”  Only two words, and he had to stop to catch his breath.  He tried again.  “What happened?”  He blinked, and succeeded in partially opening his eyes, but the lashes were stuck together.  “I can’t see you.”

He heard a faint slosh and gurgle of water, then a wet cloth was wiped gently over his eyes and face.  “Don’t worry, it’s just a little blood.  Is that better?” 

Legolas blinked again, gradually focusing on Arwen’s face.  Flickering light from a torch washed over her, casting odd shadows.  Outside the circle of light, he could see nothing.  He frowned, trying to work out where they were.  “What happened?” he asked again.

She began to explain.  “The cave collapsed.  Some of the rocks hit you.  Do you remember?”

Of course.  He recalled looking up at Elrohir as he clung desperately to the wall, and seeing the whole side of the cave falling, falling towards him … Elrohir.

“Elrohir; I saw him fall!  Is he all right?  Arwen, where is he?”  he asked desperately, trying to push himself upright to look.  Pain clawed at him again, and he fell back with  a gasp.

She placed her hands firmly on his shoulders, holding him down.  “Stay there!  Elrohir’s fine, Elladan pulled him up.  You’re the only one that got hurt, but it’s going to be all right.”  She looked up at a patch of lighter darkness high above them.  “Elrohir, he’s awake!”

“Oh, thank the Valar for that!”  Legolas could hear the relief in Elrohir’s voice even where he was.  “Are you all right?”

Legolas smiled faintly.  “Oh, just wonderful,” he whispered.  He lacked the strength to call back to Elrohir. “Tell him we should do this again one day.”  To his dismay, there was a distinct tremor in his voice.

Arwen relayed the message.  “He says he feels wonderful!”

Elrohir’s voice came again, with a catch of laughter in it.  “Legolas, I thought you prided yourself on never telling lies?  What would your father say?”

His father.  With the odd awareness they had of one another, Thranduil probably already knew something was wrong. “My father.  Do you know where he is?” he asked Arwen.  He coughed slightly, finding it more and more difficult to catch his breath.

“Elladan went to find him, to get help.  I expect he’ll be here soon.  Legolas, some of the soil and stones that fell are still covering you.  I’m just going to move the last of it.”  She began to remove some small pebbles, brushing away dirt and soil that still pinned him down.  She moved carefully, but even the gentlest touch hurt, and he clenched his hands, willing her to stop.  At last she did, gesturing at the heaviest slab of stone that still pinned his leg.  “I can’t move this, it’s too heavy.  And if it drops back … I’m sorry.”

He did not want to imagine what it would feel like if the slab fell back across his legs.  “It doesn’t matter, just leave it.  Arwen, please – just stop.”  In an effort to stop thinking about the blinding pain in his leg he concentrated on his other aches and pains.  His head ached badly, and he could feel sharp splinters of rock digging into his back.  As long as he took shallow breaths, the pain in his chest was not too bad, but he guessed his ribs were either cracked or broken.  And it seemed to take far more effort than it should have done to focus on what Arwen was saying to him.  His mind was wandering, and that worried him.

She was talking to him again now, had been for some time, but he could not recall what she had been saying.  It seemed to be something about the time he had visited Imladris.  “ … and it surprised everyone when we won! Do you remember that?”

He frowned at her.  “Won?  Won what?”  He sighed.  “I’m sorry, Arwen, I wasn’t listening.”  His eyes drifted past her again, looking around the cave, listening.  The darkness and silence pressed down on him as heavily as the slab of stone,  and somewhere in the quiet he could hear the soft, sighing whisper and trickle of earth and stones moving and settling as the cave walls continued to fall away.  The cave would collapse again, he knew it, and he was trapped here in the darkness, unable to move, helpless …

With an effort, he wrenched his attention back to Arwen.  Her stream of small talk could not conceal how scared and frightened she was – not for herself, but for him.  Poor Arwen, she was being so courageous.  He forced himself to listen to her more carefully.  It would help both of them if they could talk of other times.  “And do you remember what Finglas said after the race?  He accused us of cheating!”  Her face was indignant at the memory.

Legolas managed to laugh as he recalled what had happened.  “Yes, and I tripped him up with the crutch that Elrohir had made for me.  He was furious, because everyone laughed at him!”  The laugh changed into a cough, and a fresh spasm of pain.  At Arwen’s look of concern, he tried to reassure her.  “It’s all right, Arwen, don’t worry.  I’ll be fine.”  She did not look convinced.  He could scarcely blame her, he did not really believe it himself.

More debris began to fall from the cave wall, and they were showered with a fresh fall of stone and rock.  Panic clawed at him.  Despite the fact that he was still pinned and trapped by the heavy rock, he instinctively tried to squirm backwards, away from the cascade of stone.  He did not move an inch, but was rewarded with a fresh wave of agony coursing through him, and was unable to stifle a gasp of pain.  Then Arwen was next to him again, as the rain of debris grew heavier.

This was it.  But there was no need for them both to perish.  “Arwen, get out of the way!  It’s going to come down again!”  But instead he watched incredulously as she came closer, leaning over him.  He was shouting at her now, in a harsh, gasping voice, channelling the sheer terror he felt into anger at her foolishness.  “What are you doing?  Get out of here, now!  Arwen, please,”  he begged her.

She swore at him, words he was surprised she knew, as the shower of rocks intensified.  “I’m not leaving you!” she shouted.  Then they both closed their eyes as the cascade of rock and soil fell.

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