The return journey to Imladris was far easier than travelling south had been. The heavy rains that had battered Elrohir and Bereth, turning the paths to mud baths, had eased some days before, and the land had dried. The river was no longer in spate, and flowed swiftly, tranquilly past them.
As the day progressed, Elladan rode in a haze of increasing discomfort. Elrohir had found a sling in one of the bags to support his injured arm and prevent further damage. But the paralysis had grown worse, and he could now not move his hand at all. However the numbness in his hand and arm was fading, and had been replaced by a tingling sensation, similar to pins and needles, but much more intense. A creeping lethargy spread throughout his limbs, and he was feeling increasingly light-headed. He recognised the symptoms with a sinking feeling. The wound was poisoned, and it was spreading. He forced himself to stay upright on Balan, trying not to reveal quite how disorientated he felt. Elrohir would only worry.
With his free hand, he felt behind him in his pack for a spare cloak. The day seemed to have turned bitterly cold, and he was shivering. Wrapping the cloak around himself, he felt a little better. But now the tingling in his arm had changed to a steadily growing burning feeling. It grew gradually more and more acute, until every tiny movement, every jolt Balan made, caused a wave of agony to flare through him. It felt as if his hand and arm had been dipped in molten fire.
Grimly, he rode on. It would do no good to call a halt, the sooner they all reached Imladris the better. Without knowing what this poison was, without adequate supplies, this injury was beyond his skill to heal, or Elrohir’s.
Noticing that Elladan did not appear to be paying particular attention to them, Elrohir drew back a little, motioning Legolas to join him. The unexpected severity of Elladan’s injury had shaken him, but that was not his only concern. “Legolas? There is something wrong with El. I do not mean this injury, but something else. In the last few days he has been – distant. I wondered if you knew why. Did something happen on your journey? Has something happened at home, that he is not telling me about?”
Legolas wondered how to answer. He knew what was worrying Elladan, and disagreed with his reasons for not sharing his concerns with Elrohir. But he had promised Elladan not to say anything. Instead, he asked a question of his own. “When did you first notice something wrong?”
“Since Barlynch. Not that first day, I was just so glad to see El; and I was so tired then, anyway. But after that. I know there is something he is hiding, some secret. I have tried to talk to him, but he denies there is anything wrong!”
Legolas sought for the right words, words that would reassure Elrohir but not betray Elladan’s confidence. “Well – when we were searching for you, he was naturally worried. We had no idea what had happened. Then, we found out that Bereth was dead. We thought the worst. You know how protective Elladan can be! He is just worried, Elrohir.”
“So there is nothing wrong at Imladris? My mother and father? Arwen? Are they well?”
“Yes! Elrohir, have no fears there. They are safe and well, all of them, as far as I know! Arwen was still in Lórien when we left.” On this matter, at least, he could reassure his friend.
Elrohir was silent, and for a moment, Legolas hoped he had accepted the explanation. But it was not to be.
“You know what the matter is,” Elrohir stated flatly. “And he asked you not to say anything, I suppose? Does he really think I am such a fool as to not notice how worried he is? How distracted he has been?” He did not push the matter any further. He knew Legolas would not betray a confidence, and did not expect him to. But it hurt that Elladan had confided in the prince, but not his twin.
“I can tell you one thing. I think Elladan is worrying over nothing. But you should be having this conversation with him, not me!”
“Oh, have no fears there,” Elrohir sounded grim. “I intend to!” With an abrupt movement, he moved his horse forward, drawing level with his brother. “Elladan? Elladan! Do you ever intend to tell me what you are so concerned about, or do I have to work it out for myself? Well?”
Elladan made no response at first, until Elrohir called his name again. Then he looked up with a start. “El? Did you say something?”
“Yes, I did!” snapped Elrohir. “And – ” Then he saw clearly Elladan’s pallor, and the lines of pain on his face. “And it can wait,” he finished. “El, talk to me. How bad is your arm?”
Elladan shifted his arm within the sling, in an attempt to ease the discomfort. “Elrohir, there is no need to fuss! I will be fine.”
“Aye, I know you will. But humour me, yes? Now, tell me where it hurts.” He spoke in deliberate mimicry of their mother, as she soothed away the cuts and grazes of childhood.
The tactic worked, and won a genuine smile from Elladan, the first all that day. “Are you going to kiss it better as well?” he asked with a grin.
Elrohir shook his head emphatically. “No, definitely not!” he declared. “But El, you look terrible. I want you to tell me everything you can. If you pass out, I can at least tell father what to look for.”
Elladan blinked once or twice to clear his blurred vision, then nodded wearily. He knew he would have no peace until he told Elrohir everything, and suddenly realised that he did not have the energy to argue. “Very well. You win. I cannot move my hand at all now, nor my fingers. But the numbness has gone. It hurts. You remember when I scalded my hand when we were little?”
Elrohir flinched in remembered sympathy. “As bad as that?”
“No. Worse.” He shivered again, pulling the cloak closer.
“El? Are you cold?”
“Well, of course I am! The weather has become bitterly cold today. Do you not feel it?”
Elrohir shook his head. “Not really.” In truth, the day was a very mild, fine day for late autumn. A weak sun warmed him as it shone on his back. “Let me see.” He reached out and placed the back of his hand on Elladan’s forehead. As he had suspected, it felt hot to the touch. “El, you have a temperature. Is there anything else you have forgotten to tell me?”
Elladan sighed as he admitted defeat, closing his eyes wearily, and reciting the list of his ills. “I cannot move my hand. My arm feels as though it is on fire. I can barely keep my eyes open, I feel so exhausted. I cannot stop shivering.” He swayed a little as a wave of giddiness swept over him. “And I feel dizzy and light-headed,” he finished. He opened his eyes again to find Elrohir gazing at him in concern. “And yes, I know as well as you do what it means.”
“Then the sooner we get home the better. We keep going,” Elrohir decided.
They made just one stop that day, in the late afternoon, to rest the horses, drink, and eat the pastries which Marla had given them that morning. Elrohir also wanted to examine Elladan’s arm again, before the light failed.
Legolas dismounted, stretching wearily, and flexing his leg stiffly. The deep arrow wound was healing well, but his thigh still pained him at times. At least he could be sure that the wound was not poisoned. The four horses gathered around him, and he whispered to them, explaining the necessity for the long ride, and that they would continue through the night. Then he turned them loose to drink and graze.
Elrohir held his brother’s good arm as he came off Balan’s back, and eased him down onto the ground. Then he knelt at his side, removing the sling and the bandages. Very gently, he looked at the cut, noticing that Elladan flinched at the slightest touch. In the end, he rebandaged it, and replaced the sling. “I wish there was more I could do,” he sighed. “But there is still very little to see, and the only medicines we still have left is a few peles leaves. That would help the pain, but dull your senses too much. But we will be home in a few hours.”
After they had rested for a half hour or so, they got to their feet, ready to continue the long ride. As he stood, ready to remount Balan, Elladan stumbled on the uneven ground, jarring his arm against the horse. He gave a gasp of pain, and hunched over the injury, clutching it to his chest.
Elrohir was at his side in moments, supporting him, helping him to mount. “Careful, El. There is not much further to go, now. A few more hours, that is all.”
They set off again, and Elrohir rode close to his brother’s side, keeping a close eye on him. At times Elladan’s head drooped down and he swayed forward over Balan’s neck. At last Elrohir stopped both their horses, and dropped to the ground.
“Legolas, can you look after Bereth’s horse and mine? I think I should ride with El.” He jumped up onto Balan, seating himself behind Elladan, and placed his arms around his brother. “Lean back against me, El. I will not let you fall,” he murmured. Elladan’s only response was a grunt. He would have liked nothing better than to stop, to halt this unending ride, and to lie on the ground, cradling his arm, free of the incessant jolting that jarred unmercifully, and to sleep, drugged with peles if necessary, far from pain and torment. But he knew it could not be, and his pride would not allow him to suggest it.
He could endure this if he had to, and the beacon of home danced in his mind; the comfort; the warmth and security; the soft beds; the gentle, loving words of his mother; and his father’s healing touch. Soon. They would be home soon, and then he could rest.
Legolas watched the twins as they talked quietly, reflecting on all that had occurred since he had left Imladris. Elladan’s worries and fears for his brother had been proved unnecessary, and now it was Elrohir’s turn to be concerned. He hoped these latest worries would prove to be equally groundless.
They rode on through the night, drawing nearer and nearer to sanctuary. Gradually the sky lightened as dawn broke, and Legolas saw landmarks he was familiar with, and knew they were close to Imladris. He listened idly as Elrohir began to point them out to his brother.
“Do you see, El? We are nearly home now. It is not much further. Soon we will be at the ford, then in the valley itself. Do you think the guards will have seen us? Do they know we are on our way?” Elrohir knew he was talking to himself. Elladan had become more and more unresponsive over the last hour or so of their journey, although he had tried hard to keep him awake and aware. He knew that Elladan had tried to stay coherent, but he had just lost the battle to remain conscious, falling back limply against his twin. Elrohir shifted his position slightly, and rested Elladan’s head against his shoulder. He could feel the heat radiating from Elladan, and even unconscious he shivered slightly. He was clearly burning with fever. “Try to stay awake, El, stay with me. Soon you will be able to rest.”
At the ford, the first of the border guards appeared, amazed and delighted at the return of the three travellers. “Lord Elrohir, it is a joy to us to see you return! Imladris has been a sad and melancholy place of late.”
Elrohir looked at the guard sharply. “Sad? Why? Eilenach, what has happened?”
“Why, Bereth is dead. Did you not know? He was returned to us a few days ago. And since the news of his fall, your lord father and lady mother – they have feared the worst.”
Elrohir stared at the guard, thunderstruck. He had not forgotten, would never forget, Bereth’s death, but somehow he had never considered the effect the news would have on his own parents. It had not occurred to him that they might believe that he, too, was dead. “Eilenach, will you send a messenger ahead, to tell of our arrival? Find my parents, wake them if need be.” It was not long past dawn, they would probably still be abed. “And warn my father that Elladan is hurt. He will need treatment.”
Eilenach saluted crisply. “Yes, my lord!” His smile faded slightly as he looked at Elladan. His eyes were closed, and he leaned against Elrohir, oblivious to his surroundings. “I will go myself, and alert the healers.”
They crossed the ford, and were soon on long-familiar paths. The horses quickened their pace, knowing they too were home, and the long journey was nearly ended. Finally they rode beneath the archway into the courtyard. Elrond was there, and Celebrían, Glorfindel and Erestor, and several healers. It seemed Eilenach had done his job well, and roused half the house. Elrond and Glorfindel together took Elladan from Elrohir’s arms, and Elrond held him gently, issuing a stream of orders to the other healers.
As Elrohir also dismounted, Celebrían hugged him tightly, holding him close. Her eyes brimmed with tears. “I am so glad you are safe, I was so worried for you. But Elladan …”
Elrohir leaned down and kissed her cheek. “I am well, mother. And El will be as well, now that father can see to him.” He spoke with more confidence than he felt. He had every faith in his father’s abilities as a healer, but this poison was one outside his experience. “Shall we go with them?” With one arm around his mother’s shoulders, they followed Elrond towards the infirmary.
Legolas followed the group, deep in thought. It was a relief to be back at Imladris, but he wondered if all their troubles were over. Suddenly the conversation he had had with Elladan after they had arrived at Barlynch came back to him, when Elladan had confessed to him the recurring vision he still had of Elrohir, crying out for him. Elladan’s words came back to him with a worrying clarity. “I cannot see myself there anywhere. And why am I unable to help him, to comfort him? Why does El call for me so hopelessly? Legolas, where am I in this future?” Just how bad was Elladan’s injury?Stories > First > Previous > Next