The Search

Chapter 15: Athela and Aeluin

by Jay of Lasgalen

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As Elrohir continued to talk to his brother, softly reassuring him, Elladan gradually grew calmer, and his restless movements stilled.  Elrohir could not tell whether it was because Elladan was beginning to accept his presence, or because he was falling deeper into a drugged sleep.  He feared it was only the latter, as Elladan’s eyes still flickered although they remained closed, and his breathing was still ragged.  He was clearly still distressed. 

Relentlessly, Elrohir continued, desperate to reach his twin.  “El, if you can hear me, listen to me.  I know what they told you at Tarlong, but they were wrong.  Is that what you are thinking of?  I am here, I am alive, I am by your side.  Can you remember Barlynch?  We had such an argument.  El, I am so sorry for what I said then.  But you forgave me.  Can you remember that?”  He gazed at his twin, wondering if Elladan could hear any of this, or if he was wasting his breath.  But no, he reminded himself.  If there was any chance at all, it was not a waste.

Behind him, Elrond was studying the scroll Elrohir had found in the library.  Amongst the ‘venomous and malevolent’ fauna listed, there was a spider.  His heart sank.  It was as he had feared.  This was the creature he had vaguely remembered learning of in his studies of distant lands.  Its bite caused an initial numbness, so the victim did not even realise they had been bitten.  It masked the damage caused as the toxin then destroyed the surrounding flesh, eating away at skin and muscle and sensation, eventually causing intense pain.  And if the Haradrim had managed to develop an antidote, it was too far away to be of any benefit to Elladan.

There was one faint chance, one who may know of something similar. “Legolas, do you know anything of this?”  Legolas, after all, had first hand knowledge of deadly spiders.

Legolas read the document over Elrond’s shoulder, but then shook his head.  “No.  This is not like the spiders we have in the Greenwood.   The numbness it describes – I was bitten once; I knew immediately what had happened.  Numbness would have been a relief.”  He had never forgotten the shuddering, wracking pain that had engulfed his entire body.

“Aye, I remember.  You were bitten twice, as I recall,” Elrond said softly.  He had been in Lasgalen at the time, and he and Calmacil had both despaired, admitting to Thranduil that there was nothing more they could do.  Legolas had survived, against all expectations.  But that was ancient history now.  “It is as I thought – this poison on a weapon is something new.  It is an evil substance; the numbness masks the damage it is causing.  At least one of the outlaws who attacked you must have had knowledge of this.” 

“One of them – no, two I think,” Elrohir amended.  “They had a look of the Haradrim about them.  They could have brought it with them.  But Father, the scroll said ‘The treatment thereof’ – what does it say about this?  What can we do for El?”

“I do not know yet,” Elrond replied, still reading.   “But I think there is only one solution – the damaged flesh will not recover, it will have to be removed.”

Elrohir looked up, utterly shocked.  “You – you mean his arm?”  he asked in a horrified whisper.  “Father, no!  You cannot!”

“Hush!  I hope it will not come to that,” Elrond reassured him.  “I mean here.”  He took Elladan’s wrist, turning it slightly to expose the forearm, and running one finger along the cut, as Elrohir had done himself.  The edges of the wound were swollen and discoloured, and still oozed a thick, blackish discharge.  This time, Elladan did not react or try to pull away from the gentle touch, held in the thrall of the poppy syrup.  “I can treat his arm,”  Elrond continued, “but I think only you, Elrohir, can heal his other wounds.  You have to convince him you are alive.  If you cannot …”  He did not complete the thought.  If Elrohir could not reach his brother, Elladan might never awaken.  He could sink into despair and fade in his grief.

Elrond decided it would be best to act immediately.  There was no point in delaying, and the poison would only cause more damage.   Legolas watched, fascinated for a few moments, as Elrond and Elrohir moved in a practiced dance around the room, collecting the equipment and supplies they would need, before he and Celebrían were shooed unceremoniously from the room.

“Elrond will not have anyone who is not strictly necessary present when he is working,” Celebrían explained.  “That means us.”  She looked strained and tired.  The relief of Elrohir’s homecoming had immediately been replaced by new fears and worries.

“Then will you sit with me, Lady Celebrían?  I can tell you of our travels.  Elladan and I had several adventures of our own before we found Elrohir!”  Legolas spoke lightly, but neither were fooled.  The waiting would be hard on them both.  “And Elrohir has captured the hearts of at least two more maidens!” he added with a smile.

Celebrían looked at him gratefully.  “Thank you, Legolas,” she said quietly.  “Only two?  He must be slipping.  But yes, please tell me of your journey.”

In the room where Elladan lay, all was ready.  Elrond looked at Elrohir appraisingly.  “Are you sure about this?  Or do you want to join your mother and Legolas outside? I can ask someone else to help me if you wish.”

Elrohir shook his head.  “No.  I could not bear the waiting.  This will be easier.”  Despite his resolve, he could not help flinching slightly as Elrond made a deep cut in Elladan’s arm.  Bright blood flowed from the incision, tinged with darkness.  But Elladan was far beyond the reach of pain, deep in a drugged sleep.  Catching his father’s concerned gaze, Elrohir repeated steadily, “I can do this.”  He had helped his father as they worked together on a patient many times before.  The fact that this time it was his brother should make no difference.  He dabbed carefully at the blood where it trickled down his brother’s arm and onto the towels wadded beneath, then returned one hand to Elladan’s wrist, to monitor the pulse there.

By the time Elrond had finished his ministrations, the original shallow cut was both longer and much deeper.  But all the darkened, decayed flesh had finally been removed, and the blood that continued to well from the wound was untainted.  At last Elrond stepped away.  He straightened with a weary sigh, and brushed a wayward strand of hair away from his eyes, leaving a smear of his son’s blood on his face.  “Well, I have done all I can for now.  His arm should heal.”  He watched as Elrohir placed the last few stitches in his brother’s arm to hold the cut closed, studying them both.

 At last both his sons were home.  But one still balanced on a knife-edge between recovery or succumbing to his grief. The other he had all but given up for dead; he could admit that to himself now.  “Elrohir?  Come here,”  he asked quietly.

Elrohir looked up as he finished his task.  He was tired, weary, his eyes shadowed with exhaustion and worry.  As he stood back from Elladan’s side, Elrond caught him in a tight embrace, simply holding him.  “Oh, my son,” he murmured.  “How we feared for your safety.   When we learned of Bereth’s death, we thought you must surely have perished too.”

“Yes.  I know that now.  And El was told the same thing.  I cannot imagine how it would have affected him.  I am so sorry.  If I had thought for a moment … oh, father, I wish none of this had happened!”

Elrond took one step back, holding Elrohir at arm’s length, and looked at him carefully.  “What did happen to you?  And how did you and Bereth become separated?”  He raised one hand, lightly touching the dark bruise that still marked his son’s forehead.  “What is this?”

Elrohir looked at his father, slightly puzzled.  He had all but forgotten the wound he had received when the horse kicked him, but when he raised his hand to the deep gash, it still felt rather tender. 

“Oh. That.  It is nothing; there is no need to worry.  A horse kicked me when we were attacked by bandits.  And the rest of it – it is a long story.”

“A horse?  I can see there is a great deal you need to tell me.  Perhaps it should wait until your mother rejoins us.  “But first,” Elrond added.  “I would like you to have that cut looked at.” 

“There is no need!  It is minor; nothing to worry about.  I would rather stay here with El.”

“Elrohir!  I wish that just for once in your life you would listen to me!”  Elrond snapped.  The strain of the last few days; the last few hours, was evident in his voice.  He added wearily, “Please, do not argue.  Just – just do as I ask.  Go and see one of the healers.  Elrohir, I do not want to have to still worry about you.”

Elrohir opened his mouth to argue further, but then caught sight of his father’s expression.  Reluctantly, he nodded.  “Yes, very well.”  He looked again at Elladan, pale and still on the bed.  “But will you …”

“Aye, I will stay with him.  Do you not trust me?”    A hint of mischief crept into Elrond’s voice as he added, by way of inducement, “I think Athela is on duty at the moment.”

“Athela?”  Elrohir had imagined himself in love with her once, long ago – they both had.  The infatuation had fizzled out, as all such obsessions tended to, but they had remained good friends.

He found Athela in one of the adjoining rooms.  She looked up with a smile, then seated him and became very business like.  “How did you get this?” she queried, touching the curving gash lightly.

“We were ambushed, attacked by outlaws. I was kicked by a horse.”

“Yes.  I can see the shape of the hoof.”  She traced the outline of the imprint very gently with her fingertips, noticing how he flinched slightly at her touch.  “Did you lose consciousness?”

“Yes, but only briefly.”

“How long for?”  As he hesitated, she repeated, “Elrohir, how long?”

He sighed.  “About two hours, I think.”

She gave him a hard stare.  “You call that briefly?  What about later?  Did you experience any sickness or dizziness?  Any confusion?”

“I felt nauseous and very dizzy, but was not physically sick.”  Although it had been a very close thing, he recalled.  “It had passed by the next morning.”

“I see.  Was there anything else?  Headache?  What about your eyesight?  Was there any blurring of your vision?”

Elrohir shook his head.  “No.  Yes.  A severe headache, but that too eased.  But I could see clearly, and El – Elladan said my eyes looked normal.  Athela, I know what a concussion feels like.  And I would not take any risks with a head injury.”

She took his face between both hands, and peered at him intently.  “No, I know you would not.  But you know as well as I do that sometimes with a severe injury the victim is the last to realise it.”  Finally she released him, apparently satisfied.  “Well, it seems there is nothing wrong with you now.  But if the horse had been shod, you would not have been so lucky.”

As Athela dismissed him, Elrohir hesitated before he returned to Elladan’s room.  Although he did not want to leave his twin for longer than necessary, he realised his concern was a little selfish.  He was not the only one who cared about Elladan, and knew that their parents would want to spend time with him as well.  Telling himself that he was leaving his brother in safe hands, Elrohir left for a task he dreaded.  He went to see Bereth’s family.  It was something he knew he could not avoid, a self-imposed task that his own honour forced on him.

Aeluin, Bereth’s mother, had returned to her duties as an assistant healer, although he had not seen her in the infirmary.  He suspected she had been given light duties, work that would keep her occupied but where the occasional, inevitable lapse in concentration would not harm a patient.  Bereth’s father Bragol was a guard like his older son, and could be out on patrol.  But Aeluin, at least was at home, it seemed.  He knocked at their door and waited.   Aeluin looked up, startled to see him as she opened it.

“Lord Elrohir!”  She inclined her head briefly in greeting.  “Please, come in, my lord.  Will you be seated?”

“Thank you.”  He sat down, and accepted the cup of wine she offered, hoping the small courtesies would make her a little less tense.  And him.   “Aeluin, how are you?  I wanted to tell you how desperately sorry I am about Bereth.”

“We – are coping.  Just.  Bragol is out on patrol, all the time, he cannot bear to be here – there are too many memories.   But Beregar – I worry about him.  They were very close.  He feels the loss more than any of us, I think.”

Elrohir began to tell her of their journey, of Bereth’s last days.  “And Aeluin, remember that if there is anything you need, ever, no matter what, you have only to ask.  Any of my family.  I – I  owe Bereth my life.  None of us will ever forget that.”

“You – how?  What did he do?”

Elrohir swiftly retold the story of his meeting with Dacy.  “I tried to save the child, but the river was too swift.  We would both have been swept away if it had not been for Bereth.”  Finishing the tale, he ended,  “He saved my life.  I will always remember that.  I just wish things had ended differently.”  He went on to explain what he had found when they had arrived at Barlynch, the desperate plight of the people there.  “So I decided to stay, and sent Bereth on to Tarlong.  It was the only way we could help both communities.  I had to help Tiama and her people.”

“Tiama?” echoed a cold voice from behind him.  “Who is Tiama?  Another of your conquests?  Is she the reason you abandoned Bereth and sent him to his death?  Was it just another assignation for you, Lord Elrohir?”

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