Elladan awoke some time before dawn. The cave was in darkness apart from the flickering, slowly dying light of the fire. Elrohir rested in his arms, either asleep or still unconscious, but he was warmer now, and the heartbeat beneath Elladan’s hand was stronger and steadier. He lay still for a few moments longer, listening to his brother’s slow and steady breathing. Reassuring himself that Elrohir would indeed recover now, he breathed a silent prayer of thanks to the Valar.
Elrohir did not stir as Elladan gently disentangled himself and slid from beneath the blankets, tucking them back into place carefully. The temperature had fallen again, and outside the wind whistled and howled like a pack of wargs. He paused, remembering the howls he had heard before, and listened carefully – but it was merely the wind. He shivered as he pulled his boots back on and dug an extra tunic from the saddlebags, then fed the fire carefully with some of the small twigs and pinecones he had collected earlier. It was soon burning brightly again, and he knelt by Elrohir again, one hand resting on his brow. He was sure now that his brother was merely asleep. Although sleep and rest were what Elrohir needed most now, he was impatient, and longed for Elrohir to wake, and move, and talk to him.. Until he did, he could not be certain of the severity of the injuries to Elrohir’s back, or of the blow to his head. And until Elrohir woke, he could not establish what exactly had happened.
He set a pot of water to heat and made some tea, brewed from last summer’s dried fruit and berries, then crossed to the mouth of the cave, curling his hands around the warmth of the cup. Snow still fell heavily beyond the overhang of rock, swirling and billowing in the wind in dizzying eddies. He was sheltered from the full ferocity of the blizzard, but stray gusts blew clouds of snow at him, and whipped strands of hair into his eyes. It was dark beyond the small circle of firelight, but he could tell that dawn was not far off. He gazed out at the whirling snow, sipping at the hot tea and deep in thought.
Apart from the dreadful ill-chance that had led to Elrohir’s fall, they had been lucky – incredibly lucky. Elrohir could have been killed in the fall itself, or he could have been left permanently crippled. He could have died from his injuries, alone and helpless on the cold, barren mountain. If Elladan had arrived a few hours later, or the blizzard had started a few hours earlier, he might never have found Elrohir – and he would have perished beneath a smothering, freezing blanket of snow.
He would have felt Elrohir’s death, he was certain of it – but as devastating as that would have been, the ensuing uncertainty of never knowing where his twin lay, of what had happened to him or of how he died – that would have been an even more unbearable torment. Tears pricked at his eyes as he faced just how close he had come to losing Elrohir – yet it had not happened, he reminded himself.
It had not happened – and one of the main reasons was the astonishing message he had received from Elrohir. Throughout their lives they had shared a deep bond and understanding. They could each feel when the other was upset, or angry, or in pain. They could communicate with just a glance or wordless gesture – as Glorfindel, and Erestor, and many others in Imladris knew to their cost. Indeed, there were many times when he did know precisely what Elrohir was thinking – but that was simply through knowing him so very well. Yet never before had Elrohir’s voice sounded so clearly in his mind. Never before had they been able to mindspeak.
Oh, they had tried, as children – Elladan grinned as he recalled a time when Elrohir, uncharacteristically, had been totally unable to answer any of Erestor’s questions on Dwarvish culture, due to the minor fact that he had not studied the required chapters at all. Elladan, his eyes squeezed shut in concentration, his fists clenched tightly, had focused all his thoughts and tried to will the answers to Elrohir – only to hear his brother still stammer hesitantly, ‘I – I don’t know, Erestor. I’m sorry…’ and then Erestor’s voice, full of concern, asking ‘What is wrong, Elladan? You look as if you are about to be sick!’ That had not dissuaded them, of course, and they had tried again, many times – but to no avail.
That the mental communication had worked this time surely spoke of Elrohir’s desperate plight and utter despair – and he wondered if Elrohir had ever heard his own reassurances. Though fearful and worried for his brother, he had not been in such a dire situation. He sighed. It was yet another question he would have to ask Elrohir when he eventually awoke.
Outside, the sky had lightened imperceptibly and it was now daylight, though a very dull, grey and miserable daylight. The snow still fell heavily, but the wind appeared to be dropping. He stepped out onto the ledge and scraped snow into Morel’s bucket, setting it by the fire to melt and warm slightly. Then, with a quick glance at Elrohir who still slept, he stepped out into the snow again. He made his way cautiously around the spur of rock that hid the cave and stared out across the landscape. Through the falling snow he could see deep, thick drifts across the slopes, obscuring the path completely. Everything was silent and shrouded, and the mountainside was featureless beneath a white blanket. He had hoped that Glorfindel might reach them today, but that now looked unlikely. The atrocious weather would not have stopped Glorfindel, but it would have slowed him down – and if the paths were blocked, he and Elrohir might be trapped here for some time.
However, no matter when Glorfindel eventually reached the pass, it would help him to have some indication of where they were. Returning to the cave, Elladan tore two strips from Elrohir’s discarded tunic – already bloodstained and ripped beyond repair. Thanking the Valar that he had come prepared for anything, he took a rock peg and hammer from Morel’s bags, and ventured out again. Brushing the snow aside a little, he pinned the strips of cloth – blue and silver, in the colours of Imladris – to the bare rock as a sign to any searching for them. He judged the signal was a risk worth taking. Orcs very rarely roamed through these high passes, and in this weather any self-respecting orc would surely be holed up in some dark den.
He returned to the cave again, shaking off a covering of snow. The fire still blazed brightly, and the bucket of snow had melted. He let Morel drink, and put some more water to heat by the flames, then sat down facing Elrohir.
It felt oddly cosy to be sitting by the fire and drinking tea. The wind had dropped completely now, and outside the snow fell silently, drifting down like a thick, gauzy curtain. The only sounds within the cave were the hiss and crackle of the fire, and the slight shuffling noise as Morel moved. Elrohir still slept peacefully and restfully, and there was nothing more to do but wait.
When Elrohir woke again, it was not quite so difficult to return to consciousness. His mind was a little clearer now and he lay still for a moment, slowly recalling all that had happened. He remembered his dream from the night before, but as he gathered his wits, he gradually began to realise that he was not in Imladris after all, and that although he was snugly wrapped in blankets, he lay on the hard stony ground, and the air outside his warm cocoon was cold. He knew he must still be on the mountainside somewhere – probably within the shelter of the cave. There was one thing though, in which he had not been mistaken – although he lay alone now, he knew that Elladan was still somewhere nearby.
He opened his eyes slowly to a pale grey daylight. The fire burned in front of him, and Elladan sat cross-legged on the other side of the fire, stirring something in a pot that smelled hot and savoury.
“El?” His voice was rough and gritty from disuse, and was barely audible even to himself, but Elladan looked up, startled, as he dropped the spoon and scrambled to his side.
“Well. Welcome back, little brother. I wondered when you would wake up.” He spoke lightly, but there was a clear tension underlying his voice. “I have some water for you. Here.” Elrohir felt himself lifted gently as Elladan held a cup to his mouth, and he drank thirstily. The water was wonderfully cool and wet, and eased his dry throat and parched lips.
“Thank you,” he murmured. He lowered his head again and closed his eyes wearily.
“Wait,” Elladan persisted. “Do not go back to sleep yet, El – I want to look at you. Open your eyes and look at me.”
Elrohir opened his eyes reluctantly. “I was not going back to sleep,” he protested faintly. “I have only just woken up!” He did feel overwhelmingly tired though, and his head still pounded fiercely. He let Elladan stare into his eyes until at last he nodded, satisfied.
“Good. Can you see clearly?”
Elrohir nodded, trying to move his head as little as possible. “Yes,” he murmured.
“Good. Now, take my hands. Squeeze as hard as you can.”
Elrohir tried, but he could not muster much strength. His shoulder ached and throbbed, and he was still so very weary.
“Good,” Elladan said again. He released his hands, and tucked the blankets around him again. “Can you remember what happened? Can you tell me?”
Elrohir sighed, wishing Elladan would stop fussing and leave him to nurse his aching head in peace. “I fell down a mountain,” he pointed out wearily. “I would have thought you could have worked that out for yourself.”
Elladan merely grinned. “I did, but I needed you to tell me yourself. You know that.”
“Mmmm,” he agreed, still tired.
“Come, little brother. Do not sleep yet.” Elladan slid an arm beneath his shoulders again. “Drink this. It will help ease the pain.”
Elrohir nodded, and Elladan eased him into a sitting position. Everything lurched sideways, and the cave seemed to spin wildly about him. He closed his eyes and gripped Elladan’s arm tightly to stop himself whirling off into the void.
“El? Elrohir, what is it?”
Elladan’s voice seemed to come from a long way off. He focused on it as an anchor and slowly released his grip. “Dizzy,” he managed briefly. He kept his eyes shut, concentrating on breathing and not fainting; and slowly the dizziness and nausea eased a little. As the world steadied again, he opened his eyes cautiously to find Elladan kneeling beside him, holding a cup to his lips. He sipped carefully at the warm tea, recognising the familiar acrid scent and bitter taste of herbs. The bitterness was comforting and welcome, and cut through the nausea that still gnawed at him. As the pounding in his head began to lessen he was able to take the cup from Elladan and hold it for himself; and began to take a little more interest in his surroundings.
He turned his head slightly. “Where are we? The cave?” As Elladan nodded, he continued, “Last night – I woke up, I think. I thought we were in Imladris. I could smell the herbs and knew you were there.” He closed his eyes again. “Perhaps I was just dreaming,” he ended drowsily.
“Perhaps. Perhaps you did wake. But we are still a long way from home, I fear,” Elladan replied. “And it will be a long time before you can travel. You have an amazing number of injuries, little brother!”
Elrohir merely nodded. As the pain eased, his thoughts kept drifting away, and he was finding it difficult to concentrate on Elladan’s words. He forced his eyes open one more time, and frowned. “Did you come on your own?” he interrupted, wondering at the fact that he and Elladan seemed to be alone in the cave apart from Morel. “You should not …” he fell silent, too exhausted to continue his questions.
Elladan began to reply, explaining something, but his words faded away into silence as Elrohir gave up the struggle to stay alert and awake. Lulled by his brother’s voice he drifted off to sleep again and sank into peaceful dreams.
“I did not start out alone – I came with Glorfindel,” Elladan began to explain quietly, “but then … ” he paused, gazing at his twin. “El, are you listening?”
Elrohir leaned against the wall, his eyes closed, and his head drooping to one side, quite clearly asleep. Elladan sighed. “No, obviously not,” he murmured to himself. He eased Elrohir down to rest more comfortably, supported against Morel’s discarded packs, and drew the blankets over him again.
He stirred at the broth simmering over the fire, tasted it, and added another pinch of seasoning. He set most of it aside for Elrohir, but poured a little into a cup for himself, and dipped a piece of slightly stale bread into the broth to soften it. Chewing at the bread, he stared out at the bleak and barren landscape, wondering idly how many shades of white and grey it was possible to distinguish.
A faint sound, almost too soft to hear, caught his ear. He looked up, tensing, as Morel also lifted his head and peered at the mouth of the cave, his ears pricked forward inquisitively.
There was something out there.
The hair at the back of his neck rose, prickling down his spine, as he reached out and flicked a corner of the blanket over Elrohir’s face, hiding him from casual view. Standing silently he took a step forward, positioning himself between Elrohir and the mouth of the cave, and drew his sword soundlessly. Then he waited.First > Previous > Next