Elladan made himself wait until Morel’s breathing had eased before they continued. Sharp black shadows still lay across the path, forcing him to take a far slower pace than he wanted. Morel was still tired though, and the risk of him stumbling again on the uneven track was too great – if they fell it would take him days longer to reach Elrohir, and he knew he did not have that long.
As they climbed steadily ever higher the moon passed overhead and set behind them, and the grey, gritty light of dawn was breaking when Elladan finally reached the pass. Morel was plodding wearily now, and Elladan scanned the slopes around them carefully. As he rounded a bend in the track he could see the spur of rock that marked the cave – but the narrow trail that led off to it was gone, a section of it broken away. A long scar of darker, unweathered shale showed where something had slid and fallen down the mountain slope – and there, at the end of the scar, a dark shape lay. Mornaur.
He swore softly at this confirmation of all his deepest fears. Somehow, he had still carried a faint hope that he was mistaken, that he would find the pass lonely and deserted, and that he would eventually find Elrohir in Lasgalen, safe and cared for in the capable hands of Calmacil. In his heart though, he had known what he would find. Despite the impossibility of it, he knew that he had heard Elrohir’s call.
There was no sign of Elrohir here, though. He scanned the slopes again, frantically searching, looking for any sign of his twin – but there was nothing. The mountainside was bleak and barren, with no sign of life whatsoever. He looked again – Elrohir had to be there, somewhere. He had to be.
Elladan stood at the side of the track studying the slopes in despair and puzzlement. It made no sense. The slope above Mornaur was too steep for Elrohir to scale, surely? But the slope below – it dropped steeply, then fell away into a sheer, dizzying drop into nothingness. Elladan stared at the drop in dismay. Elrohir could not have fallen again – he was alive, he knew it.
So where was he?
“El!” he called sharply. The call echoed around him, and drew a low rumble from the towering slopes above him. He glanced up warily. At this time of year, the risk of avalanche was high. “Elrohir!” he called again, more cautiously. He listened, but there was no reply.
At last he climbed down from the track to the mountainside where poor Mornaur lay. Immediately the loose shale and scree shifted beneath his feet and he slipped, nearly falling. He took another cautious step and slid even further on the unstable surface. Swearing, he scrambled back to where Morel stood patiently waiting, and looked back. There was little point in trying again to reach Mornaur, for there was nothing he could do. The poor beast was obviously dead, his neck twisted at an impossible angle. He patted Morel absently. “I am sorry, my friend. We will have to find you a new stablemate.”
Somewhere in the distance a wolf gave a long, mournful howl. Elladan’s heart began a slow, relentless pounding as the wolf was answered by others, and he felt sick with dread. Wolves seldom came this high, for there was little prey for them – but it was not unknown. Could Elrohir have fallen victim to the creatures?
“Stop it!” he muttered in disgust. “Glorfindel was right – you are panicking! You will not help El like this.”
He forced himself to think calmly and rationally, drawing on Glorfindel’s training and his own experience in battle, then turned back to Morel and urged him further up the path, where there would be a better view. Guiding him onto the track that led to the cave, he stopped at the point where the path had crumbled away, and from where Elrohir must have fallen. He was directly above the spot where Mornaur lay now. He halted again, and stared down, deep in thought. Where was Elrohir? He was here, somewhere, he knew it. But where?
He closed his eyes, reaching out with his senses and searching for the odd awareness of his twin that they had never been able to explain to others. Yes, Elrohir was still alive – and nearby. Could he have reached the cave unaided? He felt a flicker of hope, but quashed it firmly. Elrohir, in the images he had felt, was too badly injured. He would never have been able to struggle that far. So what would he do?
Shelter. He would seek shelter and warmth, and there was only one possible source on the barren mountainside. He stared downward again, and his breath caught in his throat. There was … something … there, a grey smudge against the shale; a darker shadow almost hidden against Mornaur.
He could see his brother now, huddled against Mornaur’s bulk, and all but invisible in his grey cloak – and frighteningly still and unresponsive. “Elrohir!” he called again, but there was no reply.
Indecisive, he stared down at Elrohir, at Morel, and at the gap in the path before him. Somehow, he had to reach Elrohir, pull him to safety, and climb back to the cave to find shelter from the biting winds. And quickly – for there was an unmistakeable scent of snow in the air.
Fighting the urge to scramble heedlessly down the mountainside, he studied the far side of the path, and began to make a plan. Taking a rope from the saddlebags, he tied one end around himself, and the other to the front of Morel’s saddle, then began to inch his way carefully across the yawning gap, clinging precariously to the rock. It was actually easier than he had expected, for the rough surface provided hand and foot holds in plenty. Once on the other side, he began to sweep the ground clear of the shale that littered it, preparing a broad, stable surface. Scrambling back across the void to Morel he repeated the process, tossing the loose rock down the slope – well away from where Elrohir still lay.
At last he backed Morel up a little, and spoke to him softly. “We are going to jump,” he explained. “I know you can do it. It is not far – just to the other side of the path, you see? It is no different than jumping over a stream at home.” Morel snorted and flared his nostrils. “Well, perhaps not quite the same, then. I know. Just forget about the drop below us,” Elladan continued – wishing he could do the same. “We are doing this for Elrohir.”
Before Morel could change his mind – before he could change his mind – Elladan urged him forward swiftly, and they soared across the abyss together. Morel’s hoofs clattered on the rocky path and he lurched once, Elladan clinging to his neck like a burr, before they came to a halt.
Elladan took a deep breath. It had been a desperate gamble – especially with Morel so tired – and he preferred not to think about what could have gone wrong. “Morel, stay there,” he commanded, dropping to the ground. “Wait.” With the rope still around him, he looped it around a spur of rock and began to scramble down the mountain slope, sliding in a barely controlled fall amid a shower of loose stone until he finally drew level with Elrohir and could clamber across to him.
His hand shook a little as he drew back the cloak to reveal Elrohir’s face. His twin was deathly pale, his eyes closed and his face bruised and grazed. Elladan slid his hand into the folds of the cloak and felt for a pulse. It was very slow and weak – but it was there. Thank the Valar. He touched Elrohir’s face gently, calling to him. “El? Can you hear me? Elrohir.” There was no response – though he had not really expected one. Elrohir’s skin felt icy, and there was a bluish tinge to his lips. Elladan knew he had to get him off the mountain and into the shelter of the cave as fast as possible – but even before that, he had to assess what injuries Elrohir had. For him to have remained unconscious for so long was deeply worrying, and he had already been lying on this cold, barren mountain for far too long.
Snow began to drift about him as he pulled the cloak back further and began his examination. It was immediately apparent that Elrohir’s shoulder was dislocated, but that injury could wait. A ragged, blood-stained bandage was tied around his thigh – but there seemed to be little further bleeding, so that too could wait. The other leg was broken, the lower part swollen and discoloured, and Elladan could feel a slight displacement of the bone.
He tried to shield his brother from the steadily thickening snow as he cut away the remnants of his tunic and shirt. There was more bruising across his chest, and as he carefully turned Elrohir, he saw a wide expanse of deep, blue-black bruises across the lower part of his back.
He froze, his mind racing, and the sick dread returned. Back injuries. Spinal injuries. From a fall like this, it was only too possible. He touched the swollen, bruised flesh tenderly, probing delicately for any deeper injury. There was nothing immediately apparent, but he persevered. Closing his eyes, he reached out with his healer’s awareness, probing again but this time with his mind. His thoughts followed the path of his hands as he ran his fingers gently down Elrohir’s back, searching for any deeper, underlying damage.
To his intense relief, there did not seem to be any. He searched again, but although the swelling and bruising went deep, he was sure that there was no further, lasting injury. It meant, at the very least, that he would be able to move Elrohir without causing any further harm.
The snow was falling more heavily now, so he wrapped the cloak – and a blanket from his own pack – around Elrohir again. He had nothing to use as a splint, so he bound Elrohir’s legs together and then carefully took him in his arms. He peered up through the snow to where Morel patiently stood, a dark blur in the whiteness.
“Morel! Walk on! Pull me up!” he called. There was an answering snort, and Elladan felt the rope tightening as Morel slowly moved along the path and began to pull them up.
Holding Elrohir as gently as he could, he guided their ascent up the slope, shielding his brother from the jolts and bumps of their progress, and using his feet to fend off outcrops of rock that blocked their path. At last he reached the track and crawled onto it, lowering Elrohir carefully to the ground. “Morel! Stop now!” he gasped. His chest hurt from the tight pull of the rope, but he had made it. They both had.
He had to stop to catch his breath, but as soon as he could go on he staggered to his feet, lifting Elrohir again. There was not far to go now, and he stumbled wearily along the narrow path, keeping close in to the cliff wall. At last he rounded a spur of rock and nearly fell into the cave. Morel already stood there, patiently waiting, and he gave a soft snicker of welcome as Elladan appeared.
Pulling a fur blanket from Morel’s bags, he spread it on the ground and lay Elrohir on it, stripping off his wet clothes before wrapping the cloak snugly around him again. The deadly cold was a far greater threat now than any injury. Using the wood and kindling he had collected on the fringes of the tree line he built a fire, and soon light and comfort began to fill the small cave, and the icy chill eased a little.
Morel stood quietly, his head low, and Elladan stroked his nose gently. “Thank you, my friend. Thank you. I could not have done without you. Rest now.” He removed Morel’s saddle and headstall, and poured water into a bucket for him. “There. Rest now.”
There were still injuries to tend to before he could allow himself to rest, and it would be best to deal with the most painful ones first. Unwinding the bindings around his legs, Elladan gripped Elrohir’s broken leg at the knee and at the ankle. Pulling and twisting, he winced as he heard the bone ends grating together as he pulled them into alignment, but Elrohir did not stir. Then he set water to heat in a small pot and unwound the bandage from Elrohir’s thigh. The deep gash seemed reasonably clean, but he added a few herbs to the water and bathed the cut, washing away dried blood, grit and dirt before placing a few stitches along the length of the wound and wrapping it again with clean bandages.
Dried blood was also matted in Elrohir’s hair, and Elladan ran his fingers over his skull gently. There was a long, shallow cut and a large lump, but no underlying fracture that he could feel. He bathed the cut and washed away the caked blood, combing Elrohir’s damp hair with his fingers. Then he pulled the shrouding blankets from Elrohir’s shoulder and probed the dislocated socket. He let warmth from his fingers flow into the cold, tense muscle, easing the stiffness there and massaging gently before easing the joint back into place.
Finally he placed his hands against his brother’s back, feeling the heat of the torn and bruised muscles. He soothed the pain and swelling, reducing the inflammation a little and easing some of the deep, penetrating bruises.
Almost too tired to think now, Elladan checked Elrohir once more. He was still cold, far too cold, but the blue tinge had left his lips, and his skin no longer felt quite so icy. However his breathing was still slow and shallow, and his pulse a just mere flicker. Elrohir was still deeply unconscious – almost comatose. Adding a little more wood to the fire, Elladan kicked off his boots and crawled beneath the furs and blankets covering Elrohir to lay behind him, sharing the warmth of his own body. He wrapped his arms around Elrohir, again giving his own healing and energy to strengthen his brother’s heart and breathing, and speed his recovery. This way, he could keep a watch over Elrohir even as he gave in to his own desperate need for rest. “Morel – keep watch for me. Wake me if anyone comes,” he mumbled. Morel’s tail swished gently, but he did not wake.<>As dusk fell once more outside the cave, Elladan fell asleep holding his brother close, rejoicing that he had arrived in time. >
Elrohir struggled back to a hazy awareness, confused and disorientated. Where was he? His last vague memory was of lying on the barren mountainside, the terrible biting cold and the slow, creeping exhaustion that gradually sapped the last of his strength. He had fought at first against the darkness, not wanting to yield to the slow sleep of death, but in the end the cold, dark gulf must have finally claimed him. But where was he now?
Everything hurt – but despite the aching, throbbing pain in his head and shoulder, and the fierce agony across his back and along his leg, he was warm now, and almost comfortable. He was too tired to move, or even open his eyes, but managed to flex his fingers slightly, and brushed them against a soft, warm blanket. There was a fire in the room – flames flickered somewhere beyond his closed eyes, warming his face, and he could hear the hiss and crackle of burning wood. He could smell the sweet, slightly resinous smoke, and the sharp, clean scent of the healing herbs used in the infirmary at Imladris. Underlying that the familiar, acrid smell of the bitter medicinal tea his father brewed drifted in the air. And there was an even more familiar, comforting presence behind him, holding him in a gentle embrace. Elladan.
He smiled faintly. Of course. Somehow, Elladan had found him, and he was now back at home, safe in the care of the healers there. All would be well. Reassured, and knowing he was safe now, he drifted slowly back into dreams.First > Previous > Next