After only an hour or two’s rest, Legolas returned to Elrond’s study just before dawn. He was unfamiliar with the territory they would be covering, and wanted to study the map again to hold a clear picture in his mind. He found Elladan already there - it was clear he had not slept at all.
“Have you been here all night?”
Elladan looked up, surprised. “Yes, I must have. Is it dawn already? We should leave soon.”
“Well, first I want to look at that map again. What can you tell me about this place?”
The town they were heading for lay at the confluence of two rivers, the Bruinen and the Mitheithel, and seemed a sizable settlement. The map maker had drawn a sketch of Tarlong, showing stone walls surrounding the town, and fields outside the walls, flanking the banks of the rivers.
“They are farmers, I take it? The land there would be good for growing crops,” Legolas commented to Elladan.
“Yes, and traders. There are several small communities along the river down towards Lond Daer, but some of the towns were once far larger. They trade their crops and cattle for horses, and wine, and wood from Tharbad.”
“Do they use rafts along the river?” Legolas was thinking about the trade the wood-elves did with the people of Esgaroth, and along the Celduin.
“Sometimes, but only on the lower stretches. Above Tharbad the river is too swift and rocky, with too many rapids. But there are paths, quite good roads, which we can use instead, if we have to go that far.”
Elrond joined them then. He had been working through the night, preparing and packing the medicines he thought they would need. “Elladan can tell you what you need to know about how to use these, Legolas. There are infusions and febrifuges to reduce high temperature, peles leaves to bring sleep and ease pain. Many fevers are accompanied by severe headaches. There are several remedies for other symptoms you may encounter. I wish I knew more about this illness, what to expect!”
“I think you are about to find out, my love,” Celebrían came into the room behind them. “Arahad has fallen ill. I assume he has the fever too. He told me last night he was one of the few from his town who was unaffected.”
“Then the sooner we leave, the sooner we can get there,” announced Elladan. “Legolas, are you ready?”
In the courtyard, grooms brought their horses, already loaded with Elrond’s medicines and the provisions they would need. Celebrían looked up at Elladan, and clasped his hand in both of hers. “Be careful, both of you. And Elladan, please bring Elrohir home.”
He leaned down and kissed her. “Goodbye, mother. We will find him, I promise!”
With a wave, and a clatter of hooves on the flagstones, Elladan and Legolas rode out through the archway, turning to the south along the Bruinen. Dawn was breaking, and a cold grey light grew all around them. Pink fingers of cloud streaked across the sky as the sun rose beyond the Misty Mountains. The air was loud with birdsong, and it was clearly going to be a glorious day. On any other occasion Legolas would have enjoyed the journey.
As they rode towards the ford, Legolas remembered something that had occurred to him the previous night. “Elladan, if my history lessons with Lanatus were correct, your father is only half elven. Is that right?”
“Yes, and both his parents were too. Eärendil and Elwing. When you add Melian, who was our…” - he counted on his fingers - “great, great, great grandmother, it makes us a very strange mixture! But I thought you knew that?”
“I do know, but I tended not to listen to Lanatus a lot of the time. I forget that you have some human blood. But I was wondering, if Elrohir is working among people who are suffering from this illness, could it affect him, too? Would it make him more vulnerable?”
Elladan look appalled. “I never thought about that! It never seems to have made any difference to us before – but this illness sounds like it is much more contagious than most I have seen. Do you think El could have fallen victim to the fever? Legolas, people are dying from it!”
Legolas felt rather guilty. He had been thinking out loud, and had certainly not meant to worry Elladan even more, or to panic him like this. “I doubt it,” he said reassuringly. “As you said, it has never made any difference to any of you before. And your father would never have sent him if he thought there was even a remote risk, would he?”
“No. No, of course not!” Elladan was silent for a while, clearly thinking about it. “I hope you are right, Legolas. I think this is something my father had not thought about either.” He turned away, and Legolas heard him mutter under his breath, “El, where are you?”
Once they had passed the guards and crossed the ford, they saw no one else that day. There were no human villages this close to Imladris, and this was not one of the routes that travellers used. As they rode further south, the land changed. The wooded valley bordering Imladris gradually gave way to shallower land, and they came across sudden waterfalls, which would make navigating along the river impossible.
As dusk fell, they made camp on the banks of the river. While Elladan lit a small fire and tended to their horses, Legolas hunted rabbits for their supper. He shot two, nibbling in the grass in the last light of day, then skinned and gutted them with his knife. After stuffing them with aromatic cresses he found growing by the waterside, he roasted the rabbits over the fire. By the time Elladan returned to the fire, the rabbits were nearly ready. He threw a round, cloth-wrapped bundle to Legolas.
“Here. Mother gave me this as we left. It was still hot.”
It was a loaf, freshly baked that morning. With the bread, the rabbits, and cool, fresh water from the river, their meal tasted nearly as good as Elrond’s feast the night before. By the time they finished, the fire had died down.
Legolas looked at the sky. It was dark now, but a half-moon shone down, reflecting off the river. “Elladan? I can take first watch, while you get some sleep. I will wake you later.”
After washing in the river, Elladan dutifully wrapped himself in his cloak, and lay down. Once again, he found it impossible to sleep, his mind full of images and wonderings. He felt sure he would know if Elrohir was in any danger, hurt, or ill, but this not-knowing was hard. He had no idea where his brother was, what he was doing, or why he was delayed. He knew nothing, apart from an insubstantial fear that something was very wrong, and that Elrohir was greatly troubled by something.
Elladan stifled a sigh, and resisted the temptation to turn over again, knowing that Legolas would be watching him. His mind drifted to Elrohir again. They teased one another unmercifully, bickered constantly, and had occasional furious arguments. Despite that, they were fiercely loyal to each other, and woe betide anyone who ever tried to come between them. He knew Elrohir as well as he knew himself, knew his fears, hopes and dreams, knew what he was afraid of, what had made him cry as a child, and knew what made him laugh. They had exchanged secrets they had never told another living soul. They were like two sides of the same coin, different, but intimately joined together, inseparable. They had never been apart for more than a few days in all their lives. If anything had happened to Elrohir … he could not imagine life without his twin. Restlessly, he turned again, not ready to consider that possibility.
In the still of the night, his fears painted vivid, terrifying, mental images. He saw Elrohir lying dead at the side of the road, senselessly attacked by some suspicious villager, who feared elves, or disease-carrying strangers. He saw his brother deathly ill, flushed and delirious with fever, wracked with pain, his hair damp with sweat, mindlessly calling out one name, again and again. He saw Elrohir lying motionless, his eyes closed, looking pale and gaunt, on a ragged mattress flung down in the corner of some unfamiliar room. Elladan shook his head, trying to clear the horrifying pictures his imagination created, and sighed again. “El, where are you?” he whispered.
Legolas sat cross-legged, by the still warm embers of their fire, listening to the sounds of the night. He could hear the rush of the river, the hoot of an owl, and the soft movements and noises of their horses. On the far side of the fire’s ashes, he could see Elladan, wrapped in his cloak. He was open eyed, but Legolas knew he was not sleeping. He tossed and turned uneasily, until Legolas could stand it no more.
“Elladan! If you are not going to sleep, you may as well take the watch!” He waited until Elladan sat up. “When did you last sleep? I know last night you were awake. What about the night before? Or the night before that? When was it you realised Elrohir was missing? Elladan, you must get some rest! If - when - we find him, he may need help. You will not be any use to him if you have not slept for days!” He broke off as Elladan gave him a wry grin.
“Yes, mother! You sound just like her, you know.”
Legolas smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. Actually, I sound like my father. I swear I could hear him just then!” he admitted. He held one hand over the ashes of the fire experimentally, and tested a pot of water that had been placed in the embers. “I think this is still hot enough for a drink. Do you want some tea?”
Elladan nodded. “Thank you.”
Legolas felt in one of the bags, and extracted two cups and a bag containing dried leaves, berries and fruit. He placed a good pinch in each cup, added hot water, and swirled the mixture round. He also took a peles leaf from the bag, and crumbled it into one of the cups while Elladan was not looking. When the brew was ready, he passed one cup to Elladan, making sure it was the right one.
“Do you want me to take the watch now?” Elladan asked him.
“No. It is still my turn. I told you, I can wake you later. Are you going to sleep this time?”
“I can try.”
Elladan lay down again, trying to will himself to rest. The tea seemed to have helped, and he found himself finally beginning to relax, his thoughts drifting aimlessly. Before long he slid into a dreamless sleep, free from worry for the first time in days.
Legolas resumed his watch, focusing on his own fears. He, too, was concerned about Elrohir, and had never seen Elladan so agitated before. He was clearly even more worried about his twin than he had admitted to Legolas. The news that the messenger from Tarlong had brought, that Elrohir had never even arrived, had not helped. He just hoped that the next day they would reach the first villages and find some news, some trace of Elrohir or Bereth.
At daybreak he woke Elladan. It looked to be another fine day, and with luck they would come to the first of the villages on the Bruinen in a few hours. Elladan woke and stretched, blinking as his eyes cleared.
“Legolas? Did you keep awake all night? I told you to wake me for my turn!”
“Never mind. I decided you needed the rest more than I did. It can be your turn tonight, or the night after.”
They breakfasted on cold rabbit and stale bread, but were ready to leave by the time the sun rose over the tree tops.
The land grew more and more cultivated as they travelled south-west, and they soon came to the outlying fields of a tiny village. “This is Haccombe,” Elladan explained. “A small place, just an outpost really.”
“It seems very quiet now,” Legolas observed. “Where is everyone? I would expect to see people working in the fields, this close to harvest.”
As they drew closer to the village, there was still no sign of life. No smoke rose from the chimneys, but they could hear a dog barking incessantly somewhere. By mutual consent, they stopped their horses just outside the village. “Something is wrong,” said Elladan unnecessarily.
“Yes,” Legolas agreed. “It seems quiet, too quiet.”
They dismounted, asking the horses to wait for their return. Then, very cautiously, they made their way into the village. There were only a handful of houses here. Elladan approached the nearest, calling a greeting, then pushing the door open. He stopped dead in the entrance. Somewhere behind him, he heard Legolas give a strangled gasp as he investigated another dwelling. In the single room of the house, there had lived a small family: mother, father, two children. All were dead, the mother still cradling the smallest child in her arms.
Elladan backed away from the stench of death, retreating to the central square of the village. Legolas was already there, looking equally horrified. “Everyone is dead,” he explained numbly.
“I know. But we must look everywhere, just in case.”
Legolas shot him a very sceptical look. “You think we will find survivors?”
“No. Not really.” They resumed their grisly search. The only sign of life was a dog, barking shrilly, which Legolas found in a shed behind one of the houses. Searching the hut, he also found a little meat, still unspoiled, which he threw to the animal. It ate ravenously.
Finally, they returned to the square. Everyone in the village was dead, and had been for at least a day. There was nothing more they could do here – not even bury the dead. The ground was hard and stony, and digging would take time they did not have.
“We will stop at the next village, and ask that they send someone back here to tend to the dead,” said Elladan at last. “There is nothing more we can do.”
Silently, they returned to their horses, shaken by the reality of the fever, and continued to the next village, Langwell, which was only a matter of a few miles away. It was a larger settlement, but there was still little sign of life. The fields were deserted, and animals roamed unattended. Legolas and Elladan exchanged uneasy glances. Were they to find the same scene of sickness and death everywhere?
“Look, there,” Legolas pointed. “Smoke from the chimneys. There must be someone still alive.”
The village was surrounded by a tall stockade, which had the look of a very hastily built construction. They both dismounted again, then Elladan turned to Legolas. “Will you stay here?” he asked. “I do not like the feel of this place, somehow. Let me see if I can find anyone.”
Legolas merely nodded, waiting with the two horses. He relieved some of his anxiety by murmuring to them reassuringly, and watched Elladan’s progress carefully.
There was a heavily barricaded gate in the stockade, which Elladan approached. He stopped a short distance away and studied the whole area.
“Greetings!” he called in Westron. “Is there anyone there? I seek news, nothing more.”
There was no response, but he knew that someone had heard him. He glanced back at Legolas, who shrugged. He was about to call again, when there was a slight noise from the top of the gate.
Elladan turned back to the gate, then froze. A guard stood at the top of the fence, a crossbow held in hands which shook. It was loaded, and pointing straight at Elladan.Stories > First > Next