As the teeming rain pounded down with even more force, Elrohir pulled the hood of his cloak a little further forward – though it did little to deflect the drops that dripped incessantly down his face. He scowled at the weather and sighed. “I suppose we should be thankful that this is not snow,” he told Mornaur gloomily. “It would be just our luck to be caught in a blizzard and buried in a snowdrift and not found until the spring thaw. When my parents return from Mithlond they would be most distressed – to say nothing of Elladan!”
Mornaur’s only response was to flicker one ear as he plodded stoically up the track leading to the high pass. A torrent of water poured down the path turning it into a minor stream, and small stones and clumps of scrawny grass washed down by the deluge made it treacherous underfoot. Mornaur slowed even more, picking his way cautiously along the narrow track.
The wind buffeted them, whistling and moaning around the mountain peaks and rocky outcrops. A sudden gust ripped Elrohir’s hood back again, but this time he did not bother to replace it – he was already soaked to the skin. He thought longingly of the hot baths and fires at home. He thought of Elladan, and a sudden image came to him of his twin; comfortable and above all, dry, in the peace and safety of Imladris, working in the tranquil silence of Elrond’s office by a roaring fire, a goblet of wine at his elbow. “Next time there is an urgent message for Thranduil, Elladan can take it!” Elrohir continued sourly. “I did not even get the chance to see Taniquel, which is the only reason why I said I would go in the first place.” Mornaur merely twitched the other ear, and Elrohir lapsed into a morose silence, contemplating the utter unfairness of life.
The journey had started well – travelling at the end of autumn, the weather had been crisp and dry, and the nights ablaze with stars. The trees of Lasgalen were predominantly oak and beech, and the forest had been a riot of colour – red, yellow, bronze and gold – with leaves piled underfoot and drifting through the air on every breath of wind.
Yet from there on, things had gone wrong. Taniquel was away, gone on a two-month long tour of duty to the north, patrolling the foothills of the Grey Mountains. Legolas too was absent on a diplomatic mission to far-off Dorwinia, apparently to re-negotiate trade terms – and, no doubt, sampling the delights of the Dorwinian vines.
Returning home quickly, he had misjudged the weather badly. It was still only the start of winter, and the worst of the storms did not usually start until the end of the year – but the day before, when he was already high in the mountains, the storm had begun. Hoping that it would soon blow itself out, he had continued, but it had been a bad mistake. The downpour grew heavier, and the wind became ever more vicious. It was too late now to turn back – all he could do was to press on, and hope for the best.
Their route grew darker and darker as night fell, but still the storm did not abate. The wind continued to howl through fissures and crevices in the rock, and the rain fell so heavily it was impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. Imperceptively the path levelled out, then began to slope downwards as they crossed the pass – but now they were in the teeth of the gale, the wind so strong it threatened to tear them from the path.
Elrohir hesitated, drawing Mornaur into the meagre shelter of the cliff face. It would be madness to continue – as the track dropped it became steeper, narrower, and even more exposed. He had no choice but to stop for the night, and wait for the storm to ease before continuing. Although he could see nothing in the black murk, he had crossed this pass enough times to know that a short way ahead the track branched, one path leading to a cave where he and Mornaur could seek shelter for the night – or for as long as the storm raged.
The rain turned to sleet, icy needles that burned his face and stung his eyes, and Elrohir made his mind up. “This way, then. Come on.” His voice was lost against the howl of the wind, and Mornaur baulked as the path divided. Elrohir urged him up and to the right, using his hands and his knees to direct Mornaur, and leaning forward to whisper reassuringly into his ear. The track to the cave climbed again, twisting across the face of the mountain, but now the cave was only a short distance away. Mornaur slowed, picking his way with care, and Elrohir dropped the reins, trusting to the horse’s instincts. “Find the path for us,” he murmured. “You know the way.”
Mornaur took only a few paces before he stopped again, pawing at the ground and shaking his head uncertainly. Elrohir peered at the track before them, then slid to the ground cautiously. “What is it? What do you see?” he asked softly. He hesitated, looking ahead along the track, and back at the way they had come.
Rubble and debris had fallen across the path, partially blocking it and forcing them outward to the edge, dangerously close to the drop. There was no room to turn on the narrow track, and it would be too difficult and dangerous to guide Mornaur backwards over such a distance. They had no choice but to continue.
Holding Mornaur’s reins in one hand, he edged forward carefully, testing the ground for each foothold before stepping forward. Mornaur was so close behind him that he could feel the horse’s breath on his neck. It was the only feeling of warmth in this wet, icy world.
They had nearly reached the spur of rock that concealed the cave when suddenly, with no warning at all, the path beneath his feet collapsed, the stone eroded by frost and water and wind. He snatched at Mornaur’s mane and hung, gasping, above the sheer drop before he could regain his footing on the wet, slick stone. He had barely caught his breath when the rock crumbled again, and both he and Mornaur plunged downward.
Elf and horse fell in a tangle of limbs, tumbling down in a cascade of rubble and stone, sliding and slithering across rocky scree. Elrohir’s fall came to an abrupt end when he landed across a jutting outcrop of stone. Pain shot through him, a brief flash of agony, before darkness took him.
It was light when he regained his senses; a dim, dismal light that showed him a slope of slate-grey rock and featureless stone. There was nothing more. The storm had finally abated, and now a heavy mist hung over the mountain peaks, obscuring both the path above, and the slope below. Elrohir raised his head stiffly, trying to ignore the stabbing pain and blinking in an attempt to clear his blurring vision. The stones where he lay were stained a dark reddish-brown, and when he slowly raised one hand to his aching head he could feel the stickiness of oozing blood. His back, too, was a mass of pain where he had struck a rock or stone in his fall, and there was a flare of agony in his leg.
As his vision cleared slightly he could see a dark patch against the slate and shale littering the rock face, silent and still. Elrohir dropped his head back against the cold stone despairingly, his sight blurring again as tears filled his eyes. “Mornaur,” he whispered in anguish. He tried to edge closer, dragging himself when he found he could not move, and doggedly ignoring the agony that grew with every tiny movement. The loose stones shifted and moved beneath him, and he slid further down the steep slope towards the sheer drop he could not see. He froze, his heart racing, lying quite still against the cliff face, and slowly the rain of rock and stone and shale stopped.
He looked up at the mountainside above him again, trying to think against the ache in his head and ignore the pain. The slope rose steeply, littered with loose shale. Somewhere up there was the path and the cave – but he had no idea how far he had fallen, and in any case climbing was an impossibility. Any attempt to drag himself up would only precipitate yet another rocky avalanche, even if he could move himself that far.
He was trapped on this bare, barren cliff face, unable to go down, unable to climb up, unable to even move – and quite, quite alone.
He dropped his head against the icy rock, close to despair. “Ah, Elladan. It is at times like this that I wish I really could read your mind – or that you could read mine! I think I need your help, brother.” While Elladan would know by now that something was wrong, he could have no idea of what, or how, or even where.
He lay still for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts. One thing was clear – he knew with a cold certainty that if he did nothing, he would die here. He would either bleed to death, or freeze – and it would make little difference in the end which fate claimed him. And although it might not change anything – he was too far from help, too far from home – he would do what he could to save himself.
Elrohir pushed himself upright, closing his eyes briefly as the mountainside dipped and swayed around him, forcing himself to stay conscious. He would not faint. He could not. Opening his eyes again, he could see his injuries more clearly. Apart from numerous cuts and grazes and bruises, one leg was obviously broken, and there was a deep, ragged gash along his thigh that still bled freely. He had to stop the bleeding – already far too much of his blood stained the mountain slope. And then, perhaps, he could think of a way out of this plight. Clumsily – for one arm would not work properly either – he groped for his dagger and cut strips from his undershirt, which was still relatively clean, then bandaged his leg tightly.
The effort to sit and bandage his leg exhausted him, and he had to rest for a moment when the final knot was tied. He was dizzy and light-headed, and so terribly, terribly cold. The exhaustion and coldness scared him, and he knew he had to seek shelter – somehow. He gazed around at the bleak, exposed cliff, trying to recall every scrap of survival training he had ever encountered, and his eye fell on Mornaur. ‘Huddle together for warmth,’ he heard Glorfindel lecture. ‘Even a dead companion is better than none.’ He frowned, trying to remember what else Glorfindel had said. ‘ Take his … his boots and his cloak.’ Boots and cloak – and what else? Why was it so hard to think? He tried to grasp his scattered thoughts again. There was more, he knew there was. ‘Take his clothes if you have to – your need is greater than his.’
Slowly, painfully, he dragged himself towards Mornaur again, a few feet at a time, stopping when the stones began to slide downwards and waiting until the fall ceased again before moving on. By the time he reached Mornaur he was shaking from cold and tiredness, but he could not let himself rest. He touched the soft nose with one hand. “Goodbye, my friend,” he whispered sadly, remembering the wobbly-legged foal he had delivered himself, the eager young colt he had trained and schooled, and the warm, comforting breath that had accompanied him along the treacherous path. Finally he gently patted Mornaur’s neck in a sorrowful farewell before concentrating on his own survival.
There was no sign of the bags Mornaur had carried, but his saddle – twisted and awry – was still there, and beneath it the saddle blanket. He cut through the girth and pulled the blanket free, wrapping it around himself gratefully and then covering himself with his cloak, before finally pressing himself against Mornaur’s belly. It was scant shelter, but better than the barren mountainside – and the shrouding fog had thickened into heavy rain and sleet again.
He closed his eyes wearily, trying to think, but it was still so cold. Blood loss, he told himself grimly. Exposure. Shock. Probably concussion, too. There were other injuries too, including his back, but his mind skittered away from thinking too deeply about that. There were possibilities there that he did not want to consider yet.
There was nothing more he could do at the moment. He had a few emergency rations – waybread, nuts and dried fruit – and a flask of water. If he drank sparingly, it would last him a day – and if he could catch some of the incessant rain, it would last him longer. He had shelter of a sort. He would wait a day to rest and recover, then try again to make his way back to the path. If he could do that, he would start to make his way back to Imladris on foot. There was a strong chance that Elladan would be on his way, but that would be of little help. Elladan had no way of knowing where he was – he was not even due back from Lasgalen for several days yet. There was no one clear route leading to the pass, but a maze of small paths and tracks that seemed to change every winter. There was also the possibility – remote though it was – that his twin, believing him still in Lasgalen, would simply trust to Calmacil’s skill and wait for news.
He wished very much that he could call to Elladan for help. But their bond was one of sensing feelings and emotions, and no more. He and Elladan had never been able to mindspeak to one another – though they understood each other’s moods so well that some half-believed they could. All he could sense now was that Elladan was desperately worried about him, and he wished rather hopelessly that he could reach his twin to tell him what had happened, and where he was.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed aside the haze of pain and exhaustion and tried to channel his thoughts and reach out through their bond, using all his desperation and hopelessness to force the contact. ‘Elladan. Elladan. Can you hear me? Listen.’ He paused, fighting the dizziness that swirled on the edges of his mind, and summoned his dwindling strength. ‘Elladan, listen to me. I need help. I am in the high pass – just below the cave. I fell. El, I am injured and need help. Mornaur … Mornaur is dead.’ He stopped again, forcing himself to continue. ‘Please, El –if you can hear me – it is so cold …’ His concentration wavered again, and he jerked himself back to awareness. He could not let himself sleep. He had to make sure he stayed awake and alert, despite his exhaustion, knowing only too well that if he fell asleep in this harsh, bitter terrain, he might soon sink into a deeper sleep, and an unconsciousness from which he might never awaken.
Elladan awoke from a deep sleep, sitting upright with a gasp. “El?” he called into the silence of his bedchamber. He knew there would be no response – Elrohir was far away in Lasgalen – but there was something wrong. Badly wrong. He stared into the darkness, listening, but could hear nothing but silence. He called once more and then, sliding from his bed, he crossed to the door and made his way down the dimly lit, deserted hallways. Pausing outside another door, he knocked briefly, and pushed the door open without waiting for an answer.
“Glorfindel, wake up.”
Glorfindel blinked once, then rose, staring at him in surprise. “Elladan? What …”
“It is Elrohir. He is hurt. I do not know how, or why, or even where, but he needs me.”
Glorfindel rubbed his eyes. “How do you …” Then he waved a hand in apology. “Forgive me. I am still half asleep. Of course you know. But I thought Elrohir was still in Lasgalen?”
Elladan shrugged. “I assume so. Yes, he must be. He did not say, but I know he was hoping to see Taniquel – so he is probably still there. But wherever he is, there is something wrong. I have to go to him.”
“I know. I understand. But Elladan, wait. Thranduil’s healer – Calmacil? – he is one of the best. Whatever has happened, Elrohir will be in safe hands.”
Elladan nodded distractedly. “I suppose so,” he muttered, unconvinced. “That is … yes, I know how good Calmacil is. But … ” He sighed, and shook his head. “It is no use. Glorfindel, I have to go. I will leave at dawn.”
Glorfindel crossed to a table next to the fireplace and poured a goblet of wine which he thrust into Elladan’s hands. “Sit down. Drink this. Elladan, listen to me!”
Elladan looked up, surprised to find himself sitting. He took a deep breath, and a large mouthful of wine. “Glorfindel … ”
“Elladan, calm down. You will be of no help to Elrohir if you panic. Tell me what happened.”
“I am not panicking – I am worried!” he snapped. Glorfindel said nothing, and Elladan sighed, gripping the goblet tightly in an attempt to stop his hands shaking. He took another sip of the wine, forcing himself to be calm and rational as he related what had happened. “I was asleep. Something woke me, very suddenly, and I knew that Elrohir was injured and in danger. And that is all I know.” He fell silent, thinking. He would need supplies – weather in the passes through the mountains could be treacherous at any time of the year. He would need food, blankets, medicines – he had to be prepared for anything. It would be of little help to Elrohir if he himself encountered some disaster on the way.
The abrupt awakening had shaken him – though he had not been panicking – but the very act of planning, and Glorfindel’s instant acceptance that something was wrong had calmed him. He glanced wryly at the now empty goblet, and acknowledged that the wine may have helped, too. He rose to his feet. “Thank you, Glorfindel. Will you take over my duties here? I cannot stay, you know that.”
Glorfindel snorted. “You expect me to stay here? Of course not, elfling. I am coming with you – Elrohir needs us.”Next