Elladan was nearly at the end of his strength as Elrohir helped him back to the bed, and beginning to wonder if this had been such a good idea after all. But it was so frustrating to feel this helpless! He leaned heavily against his brother, concentrating all his effort on placing one foot in front of the other, and willing the room to stop spinning. They had nearly reached the bed when the door opened. Elrohir jumped and swore, turning sharply, and Elladan swayed dangerously, nearly falling with their sudden movement. He felt Elrohir tighten the grip on his waist reflexively and attempted to steady himself. Turning carefully to face the door, he saw Arwen and Legolas entering, bearing a tray.
“Sorry, El,” Elrohir breathed. “Arwen, thank the Valar! I thought it was Father. Come and help me.”
“Now why should Father make you jump like that? And why do you both look so guilty? Could it be that Elladan is not supposed to be out of bed?” Smiling at her brothers’ guilt, Arwen thrust the tray into Legolas’s hands, and crossed to the bed, rearranging the pillows as Elrohir indicated. Elladan sank down gratefully on the edge of the bed, closing his eyes momentarily as he regained his equilibrium, and allowing Elrohir to prop him up, supported with the pillows.
He opened his eyes at the sound of Elrohir’s worried voice to see his brother gazing at him in concern. “El, how do you feel?”
“Not wonderful,” Elladan admitted. “I think that was far enough for now. Perhaps Father was right.” If he was honest with himself, he still felt very dizzy and unsteady.
“He usually is,” Elrohir sounded rueful. “I knew this was a bad idea! Why do I always let you talk me into these things?” he scolded. He dropped one hand to Elladan’s wrist, checking the pulse, and frowned. “Too fast. Elladan, you are not moving from there again, even if I have to tie you down!”
From the concern in the expressions of all three watching him, Elladan guessed that he probably looked as pale as he felt. He nodded meekly. “Very well, little brother. I will stay here – for now.” He feared that if he did try to stand, he would fall. He accepted the cup that Elrohir handed him, but found his hand shook slightly as he tried to drink.
Wordlessly, Elrohir placed his own hand around Elladan’s, steadying his grip, helping him to sip the wine. He sighed in exasperation. “El, I swear you are the worst patient I have ever known!”
Elladan stared at his brother in amused disbelief at the breathtakingly inaccurate, unjust accusation. Elrohir, though he was endlessly patient with others who were injured or sick, had no time at all for what he regarded as his own weaknesses. When hurt or ill himself, he very quickly became impatient and frustrated, and uncharacteristically foul-tempered. “Me?” Elladan managed at last, with a weak smile. “How can you say that? Who fainted at supper once because you did not tell anyone you had fallen off the roof and hit your head? Who was it who accused me of asking ‘foolish questions’ when I enquired about your headache after your encounter with the horse? El, I fear you are a far worse patient than I have ever been!”
Elrohir flushed slightly. “That was different. The roof was a long time ago, and I did not want mother or father to scold me for being on the roof in the first place! And as for the other, you knew perfectly well how I felt, but we could not stay where we were, we had to get back here. Arwen, Legolas, what do you think?”
“I think you are one as bad as the other. Anyway, we brought some lunch,” Legolas explained, hastily changing the subject and indicating the tray. “Bread, cheese, fruit, cold meat, and some wine. Enough for all of us.”
“Because when did you two last eat? Elladan? What about you, Elrohir?” Arwen looked sternly at her brothers.
Elrohir looked rather blank. “Last night, I think. I remember Mother brought something …” his voice trailed off.
Arwen sighed. “Yes, she did, but you ate nothing, apparently! Elladan?”
Elladan realised he felt extremely hungry. When had been the last time he had eaten? Although they had stopped once on the long ride back to Imladris, he had been unable to eat anything then, feeling far too unwell. “El? When did we leave Marla? Was it yesterday?”
“Two days ago,” Elrohir told him. “You have lost at least a day. We got back about dawn yesterday. Do you remember any of that?”
Elladan frowned as he tried to remember. He could recall little, the greater part of the journey had passed in a haze of pain and delirium, and he had no memory at all of arriving home. “I think – I think I remember you riding with me. Is that right? But if it was two days ago, no wonder I feel hungry! Legolas, are you going to pass that tray over here?”
Despite his hunger, he had eaten only a little before pushing his plate aside, suddenly weary again. Elrohir noticed, and took the dish from him. “El? Do you want to rest? We can leave you in peace, if you want.”
“No! Stay here and talk to me, all of you. I have rested enough, I fear. And El, if I do fall asleep, will you kick me to wake me up?”
Elrohir agreed with alacrity. “Yes, of course, with the greatest of pleasure!”
Elladan leaned back, content to let the ebb and flow of conversation wash over him, as he flexed his hand experimentally. Was it his imagination, merely wishful thinking, or was it a little easier to move than it had been? But even if he never regained full mobility; even if he had awoken to find he had lost the use of his arm permanently – and although nothing had been said, he suspected that it had been a very real possibility – it would have been a small price to pay to have Elrohir safe.
He listened idly as Elrohir and Legolas teased Arwen about Haldir’s unrequited love, and as brother and sister then rounded on Legolas to question him about his interest in Ashia, one of Calmacil’s assistants who was nearing the end of her healer’s training. This was a scene he had thought he might never see or hear again. It felt comforting to listen to the amiable bickering between his twin, his sister, and one who was a brother in all but name. When he had been in the depths of black despair over Elrohir’s fate, Legolas had offered him unfailing friendship, understanding and support. Gradually, the three voices faded into silence as he drifted again into sleep.
Arwen was talking of some of the friends she had made and met anew while in Lórien. “And what is this I hear, Elrohir, about the Mid Winter festival? Súriannë told me that two of your – friends – nearly came to blows! She said that she took pity on you in the end, and looked after you herself.”
Legolas laughed. “Yes, Elladan mentioned that! How did you manage to ask two maidens to accompany you? Did you forget?”
“No, I did not! It was all Elladan’s fault.” Elrohir sounded indignant.
“You knew? You knew all along that it was Elladan?”
“Well, of course! It took no great wit to work it out. I knew I had not asked Elestirnë, so it had to be Elladan!” Elrohir scowled at his brother, now fast asleep.
Arwen smothered a laugh. “Are you going to tell him that you know?”
Elrohir shook his head, grinning maliciously. “No, of course not! This is much more fun. He lives in fear of what I will do to him when I find out!
Legolas noticed that Elladan’s eyes had closed, and he nudged Elrohir. “El, look. Are you going to kick him?”
Elrohir turned to look at his twin again, and his expression softened. He shook his head. “No. Leave him to sleep – he needs it still.” He poured the last of the wine into Arwen’s cup, and gathered the debris of their lunch together. “I will take this down to the kitchens, and get another flask of wine. Be good – and try not to wake him.”
Legolas gazed after him as the door closed. He shook his head in disbelief. “Arwen, I may have said this just a few times before. I will never understand your brothers!”
“Very few people do,” Arwen agreed. “Even Father occasionally admits defeat, and he knows what it is like to be a twin! But they understand each other.”
Elrohir did not use the main stairs that led into the great hall, but instead chose a smaller flight that emerged near the kitchens. Balancing the tray in one hand, he extended the other to open a door when it suddenly flew open and a young elleth burst through. She cannoned into him, rebounded, and sat down heavily on the floor. Looking up, her mouth fell open and she blushed. “Oh no – Lord El! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you – are you all right?”
Elrohir managed to steady the tray, which had wobbled dangerously, and now he set it down on a convenient table. He bent down, extending a hand to help the child up. “There is no harm done, little” – he sought for her name – “Rothella. Are you hurt?”
She scrambled to her feet, putting her arms around his waist for a quick hug, and shook her head. “Oh, no! But we shouldn’t have been running. It was Helluin’s fault – we were playing catch.”
He frowned slightly, then lifted her high into the air, before settling her perched on his hip, and smiling. “Do you think that wise, indoors? If you break anything, you will have Erestor after you!”
“Oh, no, we won’t break anything! The ball is soft, see? Nana made it for us.” Her brother, Helluin, nodded, and threw the ball to Rothella. She held it out for Elrohir’s inspection.
Elrohir solemnly agreed that the ball was indeed suitable, and was about to pass it back when he hesitated. “Your mother made this? Do you think she would make one for me? Or could I borrow this?”
“You, Lord El? But you’re too old to play games!” Rothella protested.
“I hope I will never be too old for games. But it is not for me, it is for my brother.”
“The other Lord El?” Helluin questioned.
“Yes, the other Lord El,” Elrohir confirmed with a smile. “He hurt his hand, and I think that this may help.”
Both Rothella and Helluin nodded eagerly. “Of course you can borrow it! I will tell Naneth, she will make us another this evening.”
“Then you have my thanks, both of you.” He set Rothella back on her feet, and watched, amused, as the two raced away, calling for their mother. Recalling his errand, he retrieved the tray and continued to the kitchens, collecting another flask of wine before returning to Elladan.
He found Arwen and Legolas playing chess and watched the game, offering occasional comments to both. The room was growing dark, so Elrohir lit lamps and drew the curtains against the gathering dusk. Elladan still slept, so they talked in soft voices, not wishing to disturb him.
Shortly after the conclusion of the game – Legolas won, but it had been hard-fought – Elrond appeared, smiling at the four. “I thought you would all still be here. Elrohir, have you changed the bandages?”
Elrohir shook his head. “No, not yet, I did not want to wake him. But there seems to be a little more movement in his hand, I think.”
Carefully, Elrond began to unwrap the bandages that swathed Elladan’s arm, but the movement inevitably awoke his son. Elladan blinked a little, still drowsy, then glanced at Elrohir. “El, I told you to wake me up if I fell asleep!” he complained.
“I know you did. But you clearly needed to rest – you are still not well, Elladan,” Elrohir explained softly.
Elladan looked as if he would argue, but could scarcely dispute the fact. Instead, he turned his attention to Elrond’s examination of his arm. The new incision was much longer than the original shallow cut, and deeper. But the flesh was no longer inflamed, and the edges of the wound had begun to knit together, criss-crossed by a line of neat stitches. Elrond touched one side of the scar gently, and ran his finger along one edge. Elladan flinched and tried to pull his arm away.
Elrond was immediately concerned. “What is it? Does that still cause you pain?”
“No! It tickles!” Elladan exclaimed.
“Good!” Elrond gave a nod of satisfaction. “It means the feeling is returning to your arm. There should be no lasting damage. Now, squeeze my hand as you did before.”
Elladan tried hard to do so, and was quite sure now that there was more movement in his hand. But there was still no strength behind the grip.
“That will come with time,” Elrond told him reassuringly.
“I got this for you,” said Elrohir, producing the soft ball. “I borrowed it from two of the elflings. I thought it might help to exercise your hand.” He demonstrated flexing his hand around it, then passed it to his twin.
Elladan squeezed the ball experimentally, and managed to make a slight impression on the soft leather. He looked up at his brother with a smile. “Well, it is a start, I suppose. Thank you, El.”
Elrond completed his examination, but left Elladan’s arm uncovered. “It is healing well, so I see no reason to re-bandage it. Tell me, did you manage to get all the way back to bed without collapsing earlier?”
Elrohir looked up, startled, but then chuckled. “I should have realised you would know!”
“I know you both far too well,” Elrond agreed. “I would have been far more worried if Elladan had not tried to persuade you to allow him to get up.”
“He did make it back in one piece, but it was a close thing,” Elrohir admitted.
“If I had fallen, it would have been El’s fault,” Elladan protested. “He nearly dropped me!”
Elrohir looked indignant. “It was Arwen! She startled me!”
“Now wait a moment!” Arwen declared hotly. “How was I to know that you were both defying orders – although I suppose I should have guessed.”
“Children, children,” Elrond said placatingly, with the familiarity and experience of many long years. “Stop arguing, please. What will Legolas think?”
Legolas, in an attempt not to laugh aloud at the squabbling, had crossed to the window, and was looking down into the little garden. There was a man there, vaguely familiar, sitting on a bench beneath one of the trees, his face illuminated by light from an open doorway. Puzzled, Legolas frowned, trying to place him. “Lord Elrond? Who is that? He seems familiar, but I cannot think where I last saw him.”
Elrond glanced over his shoulder. “That is Arahad, from Tarlong. He came back here the day you arrived, you will recall. That was how we first realised that Elrohir was – was missing.”
“Yes, of course. And he fell victim to this fever too. You were able to save him, I see.”
Elrond nodded. “Yes. But it was not easy. The illness is very severe. Elrohir did well to heal as many as he did, though I know he frets more over those who died. He could have done nothing more.”
“Are you talking about me?” Elrohir appeared silently behind them.
“Yes, I am,” Elrond told him. “You did well at Barlynch, you know that. I am proud of you.” He looked closely at Elrohir, at the shadows beneath his eyes, at the utter weariness in his carriage, and touched the side of his face gently. “But you look tired. You need to rest – you are not invincible!”
Elrohir nodded exhaustedly. “I know. And I will rest, I promise. Later.” When was it he had last slept, he wondered? Apart from a few short minutes, the night before he had spent at Elladan’s side. Before that there had been the long ride back to Imladris. Then he had been wakeful through the long hours of darkness at Marla’s house, wondering at Elladan’s strange attitude. He had rested while sleeping off the effects of his head injury, but he suspected that his father would not accept that as rest. It had to have been the night before they left Barlynch, some five nights previously.
“No. Not later, now,” Elrond said forcefully. “If you have no concerns for your own well-being, think of Elladan. He should not have to fret over you, should he?” Ruthlessly, he used the one argument Elrohir would be unable to resist, and combined it with his caress to insinuate a compulsion to sleep.
Elrohir blinked and scowled, well aware he was being manipulated. “Very well, I give in. But this is unfair!” He yawned as Elrond steered him towards the couch, and lay down. The pillows Arwen had provided felt cool and soft, and he was only dimly aware of a cover being placed over him as he fell deeply asleep.
The afternoon set the pattern for the next few days. Elladan’s strength improved, and he stayed awake for longer and longer periods, as the weakness left by the fever slowly dissipated. By using the ball Elrohir had provided, the strength, flexibility and feeling in his hand improved markedly, and he was soon able to resume weapons practice.
Legolas and Elladan were sparring on the practice field one day when a messenger arrived. Elrohir, who had been watching the match – Elladan was winning, but only because Legolas continued to draw back – scanned the message, then broke into a broad grin. He called across the field. “El! Legolas! Come and read this!”
Legolas glanced up, and Elladan took advantage of his distraction to drive his blade – fortunately blunted – towards his right side. The dagger in his left hand touched Legolas lightly on his chest, and Elladan gave a shout of triumph. “First contact! I win, princeling! El, did you see?”
Elrohir crossed the field, waving the letter. “I did
And you should see this. Look! A message from Teague.
Marla has had
the child – a boy, strong and healthy. He says Marla is well, and
is delighted with her new brother. And the child has been named