The night passed uneventfully. After a brief battle with his conscience, Elladan woke Elrohir about an hour before dawn. He would prefer it if his brother slept through the night undisturbed, but he had promised. Besides, he would never hear the end of it if he failed to rouse Elrohir. Rather to his surprise, he fell asleep again, and the last thing he saw was Elrohir standing over their campsite, silhouetted against the stars.
Elrohir, for his part, was relieved to find that the sickness and dizziness had eased while he slept, and had almost gone. Despite his brave words earlier to Elladan about ‘fussing’, he had felt distinctly unwell at the time, and knew that his brother was fully aware of how he felt. His head still ached fiercely though, and Elladan probably knew that, too. In the circumstances, he was rather surprised that Elladan had woken him at all, despite his promise. It was even more surprising as Elladan had been behaving rather oddly in the past few days, and had been even more protective than normal. He seemed unable to let go of the natural anxiety he had felt during Elrohir’s apparent ‘disappearance’. Finally dismissing it as one of Elladan’s ‘older brother’ quirks, Elrohir pushed his doubts to the back of his mind. They were all anxious and on edge. Rather than sit, nursing his headache in miserable silence, Elrohir stood, facing east, softly singing snatches of songs and ancient ballads as he watched the sun rise over the mountains far in the distance.
They rode into Withypool later that morning. As they approached the outlying fields they appeared deserted, which was rather worrying. Had the plague reached here? Elrohir prayed they would not find Dacy or her family stricken with the illness. They rode on, looking anxiously for signs of life. A thin wisp of smoke rose from somewhere, and as they rounded a bend in the path saw in the distance three men tending a field near the village, and another group gathering reeds down by the river.
Despite the apparent normality of the scene, other things were very wrong. There was an acrid stench of burning on the air, and the fields they passed had been fired. It was not the usual seasonal razing of stubble, but wholescale devastation. Crops, ripe and ready for harvesting, had been burned. A cart lay scorched and blackened at the edge of one of the fields, the wheel spokes protruding like fingers.
“What do you think happened here?” Legolas asked. “The raiders?”
Elrohir nodded. “Almost certainly. But how far did they go? Did they reach the village itself?”
As they approached Withypool, all again seemed normal. Children played, hens scratched in the dust, cats stalked the hens, and dogs barked. But Elladan noticed two men standing guard outside the gate. They had not been there when he and Legolas had arrived several days previously. “El? Do you recall seeing them before?” he questioned.
Elrohir looked at the guards. “No, not that I remember. But when I arrived last time, things were a little – confused.” Most of the village had turned out for Dacy’s rescue, which would have included any guards who may have been on duty. And after the long, bitter struggle in the river, the desperate battle to stay afloat, cling onto Dacy, and not be swept away on the flood, he had not really been in a fit state to notice. He had been pulled from the river by the villagers, too exhausted to climb up the steep bank on his own, and then half carried through the gates by Bereth. For Elladan’s sake, he had played down the stark fear he had felt, just how dire the situation had been, and how close he had come to losing his life. He smiled wryly as he remembered Bereth’s furious reprimand.
( “What were you thinking of? Did you not realise how dangerous the current was? Elrohir, I swear you have no sense at all! And how did you expect me to explain to your father – and your mother – and your brother – that you drowned in the Bruinen, of all places! Lord Elrond’s own river! Elrohir, you are a fool! I never dreamt that you could be such an utter idiot!” Bereth had faltered to a stop as he realised that this was Lord Elrond’s own son he was shouting at so disrespectfully. “I mean – that is – I – ”)
“El? Elrohir!” Elladan’s voice broke in on his memories.
“Pardon? Sorry, El. I was remembering something that Bereth said to me,” he explained sadly. “But no, I do not remember the guards before. I wonder why they feel the need for them now?”
With a look of alarm, they rode more quickly towards the village. The workers in the field, some way off, straightened, and watched suspiciously. As they approached the gates, the guards tensed, and one stepped forward, brandishing a long stave of wood. He looked extremely nervous. However, the elves had been recognised, for from somewhere within the village a voice called to the two guards. “It’s all right! These are friends! Let them pass!”
Someone else had also seen and recognised them. Dacy ran to greet them, but even as her mother called a sharp warning, she stopped dead just inside the gates, instead of racing down the path as she had done previously. She hopped excitedly from one foot to the other, but did not venture outside the village. “Mama! It’s Elrohir, and Ell’dan, and Leg’as! Come and see!” Her gaze went from Elladan to Elrohir, then back to Elladan again, and her eyes widened in amazement. She took a step backwards, one hand groping behind her for her mother’s skirt, her thumb in her mouth. “Mama?” she mumbled, rather puzzled.
Marla took Dacy’s hand reassuringly, and smiled in welcome. But she too stared at the visitors, with an expression ridiculously like her daughter’s. “Oh, my word,” she murmured. Although she had seen both Elrohir and Elladan, and knew how alike they were, she still seemed startled to see the two of them, side by side. Overcoming her amazement, she spoke again. “I’m that glad to see you. ’Tis right kind of you to come back to see Dacy again.” She bent to the little girl and whispered to her. “Go back now, go and help Ciana with the little ones. You can come and talk to them later.”
They followed Marla as she led the way back to her house. “Marla? Did you have guards on your gates before? Have you had trouble here?” Elrohir asked her.
She nodded grimly. “Aye, we had trouble, right enough.”
“Was it the outlaws you told me of?”
“Outlaws? Murderers, more like! They came on one of our people, out working in the fields, and they killed him. They didn’t rob him, he had nothing worth stealing, but they killed him just the same. For sport, it seemed. Sport!” She was understandably bitter. “And then they burned the field. We lost a goodly portion of our corn, but by a miracle had harvested the other fields just the day before. Anyways, since then no-one goes out alone, and they tend the fields in groups, and gather the reeds. We put guards on the gates, and the little ones aren’t allowed outside the village at all, not for anything. We’ve not seen these – these killers since then, but we’ll be ready if they comes back!”
Recalling the brave defiance of the two guards, and their pitifully inadequate weapons, Elrohir realised the villagers would be no match for the viciousness of the outlaws, but they would undoubtedly put up a valiant defence. Hopefully such a sacrifice would no longer be necessary. “I have no doubt of it,” he said. “We also met these killers, on our way here.”
“You did?” Marla’s eyes went to the cut on Elrohir’s head. The cut had begun to scab over, but was still swollen, and the bruise surrounding it was darkening. “I can see you’ve had some sort of trouble. What happened?” She seemed to realise for the first time that there were only three elves in front of her. “Where’s your other friend? Where’s Bereth?”
“Bereth is dead,” Legolas explained simply. “He was killed some days ago, by these same outlaws, we think. When we came across them, one of them was riding his horse. But you can sleep in safety – they are dead. All of them, I hope, unless there is another group we did not see.” As they briefly recounted their encounter, Marla looked at Elrohir again.
“You want to be careful. A bang on the head can be nasty. Are you sure he’s all right?” she demanded of Elladan.
They ate supper together in the tiny kitchen, talking of the raiders. They had again contributed their own supplies to eke out the meal. “Marla, Teague, would the horses and pony be useful to you?” asked Elrohir. “We will take Bereth’s horse back with us, but we have no need for the others. Some of the animals may have been stolen as well, but I have no idea how to return them to their rightful owners.”
Teague looked amazed at such a handsome gift. “I’ll say we could use ‘em! In the fields, ploughing, or when we take the crops or reeds to Tarlong and Barlynch. Are you sure? If we ever do find out where they come from, I promise we’ll return the beasts. Thank you!”
As Teague and the twins went to inspect the horses, Marla began to get Dacy ready for bed, much to her disgust. Legolas went to the well to draw more water for Marla, to save her the chore. He returned to find Dacy arguing with her mother. “But mama, I want to stay up! Do you think Elrohir will tell me a story?” she pleaded.
“Dacy! You’re not to ask him such a thing!” Marla scolded. “He will have much better things to do. And you know he’s hurt!”
Dacy looked so contrite at this reminder that Legolas spoke up. “I am sure that Elrohir would love to tell you a bedtime story,” he reassured her. “There are many songs and tales they tell at Imladris. I shall ask him now.”
Marla followed him back outside and went to a small store next to the door, removing the lid from a reed basket. It was nearly full of apples, all carefully packed and separated by a wisp of straw. She removed several apples and gave three to Legolas before replacing the cover. “Apples,” she said. “Would you and your friends like some?” She glanced across the yard to where Elladan and Elrohir were grooming the horses, arguing amiably about the right way to brush a tail. “However do you tell them apart?”
“I found it impossible at first,” Legolas admitted. “And it can still be difficult if I have not seen them for a while. But it is not so hard once you get to know them.” He took the apples from her. “El!” he called. Both twins looked up from their tasks and straightened, brushing a lock of hair back with identical gestures. Marla laughed, suddenly sounding no older than Dacy.
Legolas sighed. “They do not even know they do that, most of the time,” he explained ruefully. “Apples!” he called again. “Do you want one?” As they both nodded, he threw the fruit over to them. Elladan missed the catch, and the apple dropped to the ground.
“Butter fingers!” Elrohir teased him.
“Have you two nearly finished? Because Dacy would like you to tell her a story, Elrohir,” Legolas explained.
“But not if it’s too much trouble!” Marla interjected hastily.
“It will be no trouble at all. It will be a pleasure. El can finish here,” Elrohir assured her. They returned to the house. Elrohir sat in one of the few chairs, Dacy on his lap, snuggled against him and wrapped warmly in a blanket. “What sort of stories do you like?” he asked her.
“About kings and princes and horrible scary monsters and beautiful princesses,” she told him promptly.
Elrohir tried to think what story he could tell her. The only tale involving a ‘horrible, scary monster’ he could recall from his childhood was Glorfindel’s Balrog – and he did not think that would be very suitable, remembering how he had awoken, sobbing with terror. Then an idea occurred to him. He caught Elladan’s eye as he came in, and knew his twin had had the same idea.
“Very well. Once upon a time, there was a prince. He lived in a beautiful forest, but in the forest there also lived some terrible creatures. They were big, hairy, black creatures with lots of long, hairy legs.”
“Like spiders? I’m not afraid of spiders.”
“Of course not. Only silly little girls are afraid of spiders, and I know you are very brave. But these were very big spiders. Anyway, one day the prince went out into the forest for a picnic with a young maiden, a friend of his.”
“Is she a princess?”
“Well, yes, in a way.”
“Is she beautiful?” Dacy persisted.
Elrohir hesitated. Arwen was simply his sister. Was she beautiful? He glanced at Elladan, who shrugged, then nodded. “Yes, she was beautiful. All princesses are beautiful,” Elrohir continued. “So the prince and the princess rode into the forest, and stopped next to a quiet pool for their picnic. But they did not know that the spiders lived there!” He paused dramatically. “But the prince began to sense that there was danger, and the trees whispered a warning to him. They gathered their weapons, and prepared to leave. But already they were surrounded! Now the prince was very gallant, and he stepped in front of the princess, to protect her and defend her from the spiders. But she too was brave and fearless, and she stood beside the prince to fight with him. They both fought bravely, but more and more of the creatures attacked them, until they began to despair.”
“What happened?” Dacy whispered fearfully.
“The princess had two brothers, brave and noble warriors, who were also riding in the forest. They heard the cries for help, and rode to the rescue. They slew the last of the spiders, and saved the prince and their sister! There was great rejoicing and merrymaking in the forest that night, in thanksgiving for the safe return of the prince and the princess.”
Dacy yawned. “That was a good story. And it had a happy ending. But you forgot one thing. Did the prince marry the princess?”
“No. They decided they did not love each other enough, but they stayed friends for always. And now I think your mother would like you to go to bed.”
Marla appeared, and scooped Dacy up out of Elrohir’s arms. She was all but asleep. “Thank you. It was very kind of you to tell her that story. Giant spiders indeed! And talking trees! Whatever next? But she enjoyed it.”
As Marla carried Dacy into the single sleeping room, Legolas glared at Elrohir. “That is not exactly how I recall it! There were only five spiders, and Arwen and I had dealt with all of them by the time the ‘brave and noble warriors’ arrived!”
“But you must admit this makes a better tale. But Legolas, there is one thing I never understood. Whatever made you think you had to protect Arwen?”
“It was sheer, blind terror,” Legolas admitted cheerfully. “Not fear of the spiders, but fear of what your father, and mine, would do to me if anything happened to her!”
Elrohir nodded, remembering. “They can be a fearsome combination.” He broke off abruptly as Marla returned, leaped to his feet, and eased her down into the seat. She sat with a weary sigh, one hand resting on her swollen belly.
“Dacy’s a good girl, but she can be such a handful. I wonder how I will manage when this other little one arrives!”
“When is the child due?”
“In a few weeks. I hope – I hope all goes well. There was another child, last year. A boy. He was stillborn.” Her face grew sad at the memory.
Elrohir knelt at her side. “Marla, you know my brother and I are healers. Will you permit me to examine you? Or Elladan?”
“You? But childbirth isn’t men’s work!”
“You forget, we are not men. We are elves. I know what I am doing; I may be able to set your mind at rest. But if you would rather not, then I understand.” Elrohir smiled at her reassuringly.
Marla returned the smile, as her only reservations that this was solely a woman’s concern vanished. “No. No, I don’t mind. Thank you.”
In response, Elrohir placed both hands on her abdomen, extending his healing senses, feeling the life within. It felt totally different to an Elven child, somehow alien. But despite that, there was a strong stir of life, and a restless movement. The child was a boy, he could tell, strong and healthy, well-grown. He opened his eyes to find Marla staring at him in awe.
“What – what did you do? I felt something, something soothing. I don’t feel so tired no more. Thank you. But what of the child?”
“The baby is well. I am sure h – it will be healthy and strong.” He remembered at the last minute that humans did not know of a child’s sex before it was born. “I have no gift of foresight, but I feel all will be well.” He looked sharply at Elladan, who had made an abrupt movement. There was something wrong there, his brother had been behaving very oddly of late. He seemed deeply worried about something. Ignoring it for the moment, he continued, “And Marla, I have a request of you. If the child is a boy, will you consider the name Bereth for him?”
She smiled, nodding. “Aye, we can do that, can’t we Teague? Bereth. I like the sound of it. And Beretha if she’s a girl.” She and Teague departed for their bed then, settling on the mattress next to Dacy, leaving Elladan, Elrohir and Legolas in the living area.
As they drifted into sleep, Legolas spoke. “Elrohir? Thank you for not telling Dacy who the prince in your story was. I can never get used to the way people react!”
“It would have been unfair – they would probably have died of shock. Besides, how could I shatter Dacy’s illusions? – that the wonderful prince in her story was just you, when you had just been fetching water from the well!”
Long after Legolas and Elladan slept, Elrohir lay wakeful and restless, deep in thought. He was both greatly concerned – what was it that Elladan was so worried about? Why was he so jumpy? Had something happened at home? And, if he was honest with himself, he was also hurt. Why would Elladan not talk of his concerns? Why did he not share his worries? Why did he feel the need to keep his terrible secret to himself?
They roused themselves at dawn the next morning. As they prepared to leave, Marla heated water over the fire and prepared an aromatic tea. She took three cups out to where Legolas and the twins were preparing their gear. “Here. This’ll keep the chill out on this cold morning.” She shivered a little, pulling her shawl a little closer.
Elladan also shivered. “Yes, it is cold,” he agreed. “Thank you. Marla, go back inside. Keep yourself warm.” As Marla turned to go back indoors, Elrohir took all three cups from her. He gave a cup to Legolas and turned to Elladan.
As Elladan took his, his hand shook slightly, and the cup suddenly slipped, falling to smash on the hard earth. The steaming liquid quickly soaked into the ground. “Marla! I am so sorry!” he apologised.
“It doesn’t matter. Accidents happen. I’ll make you some more.” Bending, she picked up the shards and went back inside.
Elrohir looked sharply at his brother. “Elladan, what happened? Why did you drop that?” he queried.
“I just could not seem to hold it,” Elladan admitted.
“Let me see your hand,” Elrohir instructed. He took his twin’s hand, turning it this way and that, finally turning it palm uppermost. “Hmm. There is nothing obvious I can see. Legolas, how bad was that cut on his arm?”
“El, I can answer for myself!” Elladan protested.
“Aye, I know you can, but Legolas will tell me the truth, not that ‘it does not hurt’, or that you ‘cannot feel it’.”
“Elrohir, that is the truth. It really does not hurt. I cannot feel it – not at all. It feels numb.” As he spoke, Elrohir was pushing up his sleeve to inspect the bandage. It was smeared along its length with ominous dark stains. Then Elrohir began to carefully unwrap the bandages. The edges of the wound had not begun to heal. The looked red and inflamed, and blood, so dark that it seemed almost black, oozed from the cut.
“El, this looks bad. You should have said something!” Elrohir scolded.
“I did not realise how bad it was. It did not hurt, and I had other things to worry about.”
Elrohir slowly drew one finger along the length of the cut on the unbroken skin. It was a ticklish spot, and would normally make Elladan squirm. He showed no reaction. “Can you feel that? Does it hurt?”
Next, Elrohir squeezed each finger in turn. “Can you feel that?”
Silently, Elladan shook his head. Elrohir grew more and more concerned. While severe pain was always worrying, a complete lack of sensation was cause for even more concern. “Elladan, I want you to open and close your hand.” Elladan tried to comply, but found he could only bend his fingers halfway, and was unable to straighten them completely either. “El, you need to get back to Imladris. I want father to look at this. Can you feel anything?”
“No. Nothing at all.”
“Elrohir, what is it? I cleaned and bandaged the wound myself – I know enough field medicine to do that! And we used that ointment your father gave us. He said it would work against most poisons.” Legolas was feeling very guilty. The shallow cut had seemed clean and very minor. What had he missed?
“Most poisons. I have seen poisons that prevent the blood from clotting, so a wound continues to bleed, poisons that cause a wound to become infected, and poisons that cause extreme agony. But I have never come across one that stops a wound hurting! This – this is something new. I think my father should see it as soon as possible. I want to ride straight for Imladris. If we keep going, we can be there by dawn tomorrow. Are you both ready?”
Elladan and Legolas both nodded. They left Withypool, and set off for Imladris at a fast pace. As far as Elrohir was concerned, they could not get there quickly enough.Stories > First > Previous > Next