The Search

Chapter 16: Another Wanderer Returns

by Jay of Lasgalen

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Elrohir leapt to his feet and spun around, utterly stunned at the bitter accusation.  Behind him, Aeluin had also jumped up, and she gave a soft cry of protest.  “Beregar, no!  You should not say such things!  Lord Elrohir came here to apologise!”

“Apologise?  For what?  For causing the death of my brother?  How is that supposed to comfort my mother in the loss of her son; to comfort my sister and me in the loss of our brother?  You will have to forgive me, Lord Elrohir, but I do not accept your apology!”  Sarcasm dripped from his words.

Aeluin tried desperately to intervene.  “Beregar, please stop, you are making things worse!  Please!”

“Aeluin, do not worry.  He has every right to his anger with me.”  Turning towards Beregar, Elrohir continued, “You cannot blame me more than I already blame myself.   I just wish I could have acted differently.”   Since Barlynch, Elrohir had had time to come to the realisation that he could not have prevented Bereth’s death, unless he had managed to persuade one of the guards to accompany him to Tarlong.  And that, given the dire situation there, and the people’s stark fear of contracting or spreading the disease, was rather remote.  While he regretted the necessity of his actions, he knew he would have to do the same again.

Beregar, irrational in his grief, did not listen to either his mother or Elrohir.  “They left together.  Bereth was alive and well then.  Now they return, days apart.  Bereth – Bereth is dead, while he” – he flung an accusatory arm at Elrohir – “is alive and well.  You let my brother die!” he screamed.

“Beregar, you should not believe such things,” said Elrohir calmly.  “I owe Bereth much, I share your grief.”

“How can you?  How can you know what it is to lose one you love?  Your brother still lives!”

Elrohir flinched as if Beregar had struck him.  He froze, biting his lip. “Yes, he lives – for the moment,” he said quietly.  He turned and left suddenly, not even bidding farewell to Aeluin.  He dared not say anything else; he did not trust his voice not to betray him.  He walked blindly along the paths that led back to the house, relying on the familiarity of the route to guide him.  He could not fault Beregar for his earlier words, nothing the other said could even begin to approach the self-blame Elrohir felt himself.  But the comment about Elladan was too much.

All the fear and worry he felt for Elladan, all the sadness he felt over his twin’s very real grief, however misplaced, coalesced into a shapeless dread.  Elrohir knew he had been gone for far too long.  Who knew how Elladan was faring?  If his brother needed him, Elrond would not know where to find him – he had been on his way to the infirmary.  It was time he returned.

Anxious now, Elrohir quickened his pace, emerging onto the courtyard from a side path.  He crossed swiftly to the entrance steps, but jerked to a halt at a sudden cry of warning.

“Look out!”

Belatedly, he realised that a troop of horses had streamed in through the archway, and that he had very nearly walked beneath their hooves.  Mentally cursing his inattention – he could ill afford another such encounter – he veered away around them, paying little attention to the foremost rider, who was cursing him roundly.  But then the rider dropped to the ground in front of him, enveloping him in bear-like hug, and kissing him.

“Elrohir!  Is it really you?  After I got Mother’s letter, you were the last person I expected to see!”

Arwen?”  Elrohir stared at his sister, more than a little dazed. Arwen sounded every bit as surprised as he felt, but he returned the embrace.  “Arwen, how wonderful to see you!  But what are you doing here?  I thought you were still in Lórien!”

Arwen nodded, lacing her arm through his, and guiding him towards the steps.  “I was,” she confirmed.   She flung a glance over her shoulder.  “Bryanth, would you see to my horse?  Bless you!” She blew the guard an airy kiss.

“Ar, stop a moment.  What letter?  And where is your escort?  Just look at you!”  She was dishevelled, her hair snarled and tangled where it had come adrift from her braids, tendrils clinging to her face.  She looked distinctly travel-stained.  Her guards were in no better shape, just three of them, all equally weary.

Slowing down a little, Arwen drew a deep breath, collecting her thoughts.  “Some days ago, grandmother told me it was time I returned home, but she would not say any more than that.  I left the next day, but just as we crossed the pass, a messenger met us.  He carried a letter from Mother; she sounded desperately worried about you.  So we rode as fast as we could.  The rest of the guards could not keep up, these are all that are left,” she added, indicating the three warriors.

Elrohir shook his head, his worry over Elladan temporarily displaced.  “Ar, you should be more careful!   You know how dangerous the pass can be!  If anything happened to you as well …” 

“As well as what?   El, whatever is the matter with you?”  Arwen sounded bewildered, and more than a little annoyed.

Swiftly, Elrohir explained all that had occurred during her absence,  ending with his encounter with Beregar.  Arwen’s expression saddened as she learned of Bereth’s death.  She had once exchanged shy kisses with him beneath the stars at one of the Mid Summer festivals. 

He finished his rapid explanation just as they approached the infirmary.  Raising one finger to his lips, motioning Arwen to silence, Elrohir pushed open the door to Elladan’s chamber, just a little.  His mother and father were still sitting at his brother’s side, and Legolas still hovered by the window.  “I am sorry I was so long, there was something I had to do,” he began.  “But look what I found down in the courtyard!”  He pushed the door open fully, revealing Arwen standing behind him.

A joyous reunion followed between all five, muted out of consideration for patients in the infirmary; but ecstatic none the less.  Then Arwen perched on the edge of the bed, turning her attention to her other brother.  “Elladan?   Will you not wake up and greet me?  Have you no welcome for your favourite sister?”  Her pleas had no more effect than any other.  Elladan remained totally unresponsive.  He breathed, and behind the closed lids his eyes flickered constantly, but there was little other sign of life.

“Is there no change?”  Elrohir asked hopelessly.  He knew it was a foolish question, if there had been even the slightest change Elrond would have said so immediately.  However he was still obscurely disappointed when his father shook his head.

“Nothing.  I have done all I can for now – I think, I hope, that his arm will heal, and that he will regain full use of it.  But other than that …  I do not know,” he admitted.  “But for now, Arwen has messages from your Grandmother and Grandfather, and much to tell us of her visit.  And Legolas tells me that there many tales to tell of his journeys with you and Elladan.  Will you join us in my study for lunch?”

Elrohir gave a slight shake of his head.  “I will stay here a while longer with El,” he said.  He gave a small smile, kissing his sister again.  “It is good to see you returned, Ar,” he added.  “I missed you.  We both did.”

As the others left, Elrohir sat by his brother’s side again, holding one of the limp hands in his.   He had no idea how much sensation Elladan may have regained in his left hand, so he sat on the right.  “El?  Elladan, can you hear me?  El, please wake up,” he called softly.  “I am here, I am alive, and I am safe and well.  I know what they said at Tarlong, but they were wrong.  El, can you hear me?  Can you feel me holding your hand?  Can you feel this?”  He squeezed Elladan’s hand tightly, looking for any flicker of reaction, any trace of awareness, any response at all.  There was nothing.  Elladan’s earlier restlessness, when he had struggled and fought against his terrifying nightmares, crying out with fear and grief, had faded to a frightening stillness, though his body still burned.  It seemed he was too weak even to fight the fever.  “El, if you can hear me, listen to me.  Do not give up.  You are not alone,  I am here with you, right by your side.”  His voice dropped to a bare whisper.  “I love you El, please do not leave me.”

He continued throughout the rest of the day, talking to Elladan, reading to him, reminiscing.  “Do you remember the first time we went to Lasgalen? When we dressed the same, so no one could tell us apart?  Do you remember the look on Thranduil’s face?  And father’s?  Legolas never knew who he was talking to, so he called us both Ellahir.  Do you remember that?”  He paused wearily, resting his voice for a moment, then continued with a touch of exasperation,  “El, will you please wake up?  Why are you such a stubborn son of an orc?”

“Do you usually speak of me so disrespectfully?  Or perhaps you refer to your father.    And if Elladan is the son of an orc, what does that make you?”    Celebrían’s soft voice, faintly amused, startled him.

“Mother!”  Startled, Elrohir sat bolt upright.  “I did not hear you come in.  I was just talking to El.”  

“I know.  Is there any change?”  Celebrían gave her son the cup of wine she had brought.

Elrohir sipped at the wine, grateful at the way it soothed his dry throat.  Then he shook his head slightly.  “Not yet.  But I will not give up yet.”  He sighed.  “Mother, why is he so stubborn?”

Celebrían did smile at that.  Elrohir seemed unaware that of the two, he could be far more stubborn than his twin.  But both her sons – and daughter – came from a long line of stubborn, strong-willed elves and men.  Their grandfather had found the courage and determination to sail to the Undying Lands, to petition the Valar themselves and enlist their aid.  Her own mother had defied the Valar and been exiled as a result.  It was little wonder that her children could be so determined, obstinate, headstrong and pig-headed at times.

She leaned over and kissed them both.  “Keep trying.  If anyone can call him back, you can.”

Elrohir nodded wearily.  “I know.  I just hope I can reach him.”  As the door closed behind Celebrían, he took another sip of the wine, then swore softly.  The fire had almost died, and he should have asked her to place some more logs on it.  He straightened, moving a little stiffly after sitting for so long, and pulled his hand free of Elladan’s.  To his amazement, the grip on his fingers tightened imperceptibly, and he looked down at his brother.  “El?”  He moved his hand again, and this time he was certain.  Elladan’s hand moved fractionally towards him, seeking the lost contact.  He appeared to say something, but it was not possible to tell what.

Elrohir dropped to his knees beside the bed, his stiffness forgotten, the fire forgotten.  “El?  Can you hear me?  Are you there?”  He caught the groping hand in both of his, then moved one again to touch his brother’s face.  “Elladan, can you hear me?”

Elladan could no longer distinguish nightmare from reality.   The two ran together into a maelstrom of anguish, in which one thought dominated all.  Elrohir was dead.  The awful reality of that eclipsed even the worst nightmare he had ever had. It was simply something he had never contemplated.  But eventually a more tranquil dream came to him, one of happier memories.  In his dream he could hear Elrohir’s voice again, so much loved; so much missed.  His twin spoke to him of shared memories, of mischief and punishments.  There had been so much love and laughter in their family.  The pain of what he had lost; what they had all lost, tore at him.  Things would never be the same again. 

But for now he was content to relax into the dream, enjoying the illusion that Elrohir was actually by his side, talking to him.  He could almost believe that he could feel his brother’s touch on his hand.  He smiled slightly as Elrohir became frustrated, calling him a stubborn son of an orc.  His twin might be dead, but it seemed it was still possible to annoy him.  It was encouraging that some things had not changed.  But then Elrohir began to pull away from him, and Elladan knew that soon he would be alone again.  He tried to cling to the illusion of contact, to prolong the dream and delay his inevitable waking and return to bitter reality. 

He had to return, he knew that.  He could not succumb to the tempting oblivion that beckoned him.  Elrohir would not want that, although he would surely understand.   But Elladan knew he had to find within himself the strength to live – for his mother, for his father, and his sister.  And for himself.  But for now, he clung to the comforting security of the dream.  He clutched at Elrohir’s hand as he tried to withdraw it, and voiced his protest.  “No.  Stay, please stay.”  He made no sound, and wondered if he had spoken at all, or if the words were in his mind alone, along with the dream.  But it all seemed so real.

Elrohir’s voice came again, urgent now, calling to him sharply, almost as if in response to his actions.  He felt a gentle caress, as cool fingers touched his cheek.  Was it possible?  Could it be that Elrohir was truly there?  Scarcely daring to believe it, Elladan turned his head, very slightly, towards the sound.  “El?”  Again he could not hear his own voice, but it did not matter, for the answer came immediately.

It was the sweetest sound he had heard in all his life.  “Yes! Yes, I am here.”  It was Elrohir, replying to him, unmistakeable, for all there was an odd catch to his voice.  Elladan smiled, and shifted his grip a little, feeling the fingers beneath his slide free.  It did not matter.  Somehow, incredibly, Elrohir was with him once more.  Faintly, he could hear the slight rattle of glass on glass, and the sound of water being poured.  Then there was movement beside him again, and cool liquid brushed his lips.  Then he was lifted, and leaned back against Elrohir as the water was held for him to drink.

Elladan sipped at the water slowly, coughing slightly as it trickled down his parched throat.  Vaguely he wondered how long it had been since he had last drunk anything.  He was still thirsty when the cup was removed.  Then, struggling a little, he opened his eyes, blinking once or twice until he could see clearly. “El?”  he asked again slowly.  “Is it … really you?  They … told me you were dead.”   His voice was still weak and faint, but Elrohir gave him a brilliant smile.

“Yes, I know,” Elrohir said softly.  “But they were wrong.  It was a mistake, a terrible mistake.  I am here, I am alive, I am well – apart  from worrying over you!”

“Good.”  Elladan’s eyes drifted shut again, and his head fell back against Elrohir’s shoulder.  “Thought … I was … dreaming.”  He slept.

“It was no dream, brother,”  Elrohir spoke quietly.   He leaned back, Elladan resting against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around his brother.  Then he dropped his head and kissed Elladan gently on the top of his head, in a rare gesture of intimacy that they simply did not need normally. “It was a nightmare.  But it is over now.  You are back with us again.  Sleep now, without fear.”

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