Elladan stood completely still, his hands held in clear view by his sides. He wanted to show he was no threat, but the guard could obviously see his sword, and the bow across his back. Behind him, Elladan heard a faint swish of air. He knew Legolas would have drawn his bow, and would have an arrow trained on the guard.
Elladan did not take his eyes off the sentry. He was unfamiliar with crossbows as weapons, and was not sure how much warning he would have if the guard decided to fire. He sensed no real threat from the man, but bearing in mind how nervous he seemed to be, it would be small comfort if he was shot by accident. Before he could speak again, the guard called down to him.
“Don’t come no closer! Keep away! I don’t want to have to shoot you!”
“I ask for news, and maybe help for your neighbours,” Elladan called back. “I will not come any nearer, have no fear.”
The guard looked down behind the fence, and whispered to someone else. “It’s that elf, the one who came last week! What’s he want again?” Then he straightened again, and a second sentry joined him. “Look, like we said to you last time, we don’t want you here. Go away! There’s a fever in these parts, a bad fever, and we’re not letting anyone in! Don’t you understand?”
“I do not wish to come in! I -” the guard’s words suddenly sank in. “What do you mean, you said last time? Who came last week?”
The two sentries looked at each other. “Bloody stupid elf!” one muttered. “Is he thick or something?”
“Maybe he can’t understand our speech.” The second guard sounded thoughtful. “They speak different to us, don’t they?”
Elladan altered his stance slightly. Now, out of the corner of his eye, he could see Legolas, two arrows drawn and aimed at the men. He was listening intently.
“We-said-last-time,” the guard spoke very slowly and clearly. “Go-away-you-can’t-come-in. We-told-you-that.”
“It must have been my brother you spoke to before!” Elladan spoke urgently. “When was he here? Can you remember? What did he say?”
“Your brother? You sure? He looked just like you!” The guard sounded very doubtful.
Elladan clung to his patience with great difficulty. “We are twins,” he said shortly. “Please, what can you tell me of him?”
Something in Elladan’s desperate tone finally penetrated the men’s own fear of the two strangers. Slowly, the first guard lowered his crossbow.
“It were just over a week ago. Nine days, I think, the night of the storm. There was two of them. One of them – your brother – asked for shelter for the night. It was raining cats an’ dogs, and blowin’ up real strong. He said they were travelling to Tarlong, to take some medicines there. We knew there was fever there, so we told them they couldn’t come in. We felt real bad, turning anyone anyway on a night like that, but we had to!”
“I see. And then what?”
The guard shrugged. “They left. Rode on down the track; to the next village, I suppose. Why? Is something wrong?”
“I hope not,” murmured Elladan, almost to himself. “Have you seen any other travellers?”
“No. No-one. An’ that’s strange, because usually the folk from Haccombe, up the river aways, come down for supplies about once a week. We ain’t seen them.”
“We have just come from there,” Legolas called. He had approached the gate, and stood beside Elladan. The arrows were back in their quiver, and his bow was held loosely in one hand. “I fear we have bad news. The villagers – they were all dead. I am sorry. There was nothing we could do for them.”
“We do not know your burial rites or customs,” Elladan told the guard. “So we left them there. We hoped someone from your village would tend to the dead.”
The guard looked incredulous. “What – they’re dead? All of them? Even the kiddies?”
“The children as well,” Legolas confirmed. “I am sorry.”
The guard suddenly raised the crossbow again, and tightened his grip on it. “It was the plague that did for them? And you’ve just come from there?” His voice grew harsh. “Then go. Go now. We don’t want you here, and we don’t want your germs. Go.” The atmosphere had changed very rapidly. The guard’s fears had intensified, and he seemed far more ready to shoot.
Legolas’ hands twitched, as he fought against his instinctive reactions. It was difficult to resist the compulsion to draw his bow, although he knew that such an action would only compound this confrontation. The guard was so fearful, so nervous, that any sudden movement by either elf would only goad him into firing. And despite everything, Legolas still had no wish to kill the guard. He was clearly terrified, defending his village in the only way he knew. The words of his first archery teacher echoed inside his head, in a never-forgotten warning. “Never draw either bow or arrow unless you are prepared to kill your target if you have to. If your enemy senses any hesitation, any reluctance, it could prove fatal, for you- or for your companions.”
“Go,” the man repeated grimly.
They went. They would never sway the guard’s judgement, and had no time in which to try. It would not help either Elrohir or Bereth if they fell here, victims of primitive fears and prejudices.
Elladan and Legolas walked slowly away from the gate, backwards, never taking their eyes from the sentries. Neither was willing to turn their backs on the men until they reached the horses. Then they mounted, and rode swiftly away along the riverside trail, leaving the fenced village behind them.
“Well, at least we learned one thing,” Legolas said, finally breaking the silence. “Both Elrohir and Bereth were there nine days ago. And they still intended to go on to Tarlong. Perhaps we will find more news at the next village.”
“Perhaps.” Elladan sounded troubled. “If the guard was telling the truth. If he really did send El on his way. If he did not shoot them down as they approached, on the remote chance that they carried the fever! They would not be expecting an attack like that, would stand no chance against a crossbow! They could both have been lying in a ditch only yards away for all we know!”
“Elladan. Elladan!” Legolas stopped his horse, and seized Balan’s mane, forcing Elladan to stop as well. “Elladan, stop this. You have no reason to think that. I sensed no evil from those men. Yes, they were frightened. But I believe the guard told us the truth. His remorse was genuine when he spoke of sending them off into the storm. And if he had harmed Elrohir or Bereth, he would have killed us too, especially when he recognised you.” He spoke softly, reassuringly, trying to penetrate Elladan’s fear.
Elladan closed his eyes, and drew a deep, shuddering breath. “I know. I know. You are right, Legolas. I am sorry. I just – I just wish I knew where they are.”
“Yes. So do I.”
“There is something else. I did not tell my parents about this, they were already concerned. Since the day El left I have been having dreams. Nightmares. Visions, I suppose. I see Elrohir dead, or dying, from fear and prejudice like that, from the fever, attacked by outlaws, struck by lightning, struggling and drowning in flood waters. That guard – he spoke of a storm on the night El arrived.” Elladan’s eyes were dark and haunted.
Legolas paused. He had not known of this, but it was not altogether surprising. “Such dreams are common, especially at times like this. I remember – I remember when my mother died. My greatest fear then was that something would happen to my father as well. For many months afterwards, I dreamed of him, of his death, that he simply went away, that he rejected me. The dreams were so real that at one time I truly believed he no longer loved me.” He could still vividly recall the terrible anguish of those days, even after so long. “It was utter nonsense, of course! Your father was very supportive to us both at that time. I was very young, but I have never forgotten his kindness.” He smiled, reminiscing, and then another thought struck him. “And besides, if the guard had harmed Elrohir, I think he would have been more than a little surprised when you turned up at his gate a week later!”
Elladan smiled at that. “Yes. You are right, of course. I was not thinking.”
“Of course not. You are a ‘bloody stupid elf’, after all! But Elladan, my point is that you are bound to have such vivid dreams when you are so worried.”
“You think it is all in my imagination, then?”
Legolas hesitated. He did not wish to belittle his friend’s very real fears. And yet … “Yes,” he said simply.
“I hope you are right. But Legolas, these dreams, or visions, could be more than just vague fears on my part. I think they could be connected to my Grandmother’s foresight.”
Legolas had always been a little in awe of the Lady of Lothlorien. “You have the Lady Galadriel’s gift of sight? You think the dreams are true?”
“Some of them. In part. But it is no gift, it is a curse! I cannot tell what may already have occurred, what may lie in the future, what may never happen. But I fear that some of what I have seen will be true, somewhere, at some time.” Elladan sighed. “And I have no way of knowing what.”
They rode on for the rest of that afternoon, again without seeing any travellers. The land was very quiet. Towards evening, they came to the last village before Tarlong. The river here was wide and deep, and flowed languidly past the village and the reed beds after which it was named. Withypool traded in the reeds, which were used in thatching, or woven into baskets. As they neared the village, they fell into the now familiar routine, dismounting, and approaching cautiously on foot.
A low fence surrounded the place, very different from the high stockade at Langwell. A gate in the fence stood open, and children could be seen playing just inside, under the watchful eye of an obviously pregnant woman. As Legolas and Elladan drew nearer, one or two villagers who were rounding up hens and ducks for the night watched them curiously.
Suddenly a young girl, very pretty, broke away from the rest and raced down the path from the gate. She flung her arms around Elladan excitedly, and kissed him soundly. “Elrohir! You came back! I knew you would!” she squealed with delight.
Elladan gazed down at the girl in amazement, and looked at Legolas, feeling rather bemused. Legolas was grinning broadly at his discomfiture. “She seems a little young for him, I would think!” he observed. The child could not have been more than five years old.
Sensing Elladan’s hesitance, she drew away a little, and looked up at him, puzzled. “Elrohir?” she asked doubtfully.
Elladan dropped to one knee in front of her, ignoring Legolas’ amusement. “No. Elrohir is my brother. My name is Elladan.” He smiled at the little girl reassuringly. “Is he a friend of yours?”
She nodded, her eyes wide. As she looked at him shyly, one hand rose to her face, and a thumb slipped into her mouth. The woman who had been watching the children called to her, and the girl turned to face her. “Dacy! Who’s that you’re talking to? What have I told you about strangers – oh! Tis you again, sir! I’m right glad to see you again.” Dusting her hands against her skirt, the woman walked down the track to retrieve the little girl, who ran to her side, clutching her hand.
“It’s not him, Mama! It’s not!”
“Who’s not? What do you mean, child?”
“Tisn’t Elrohir! It’s his brother!”
Startled, the woman looked more closely. “Oh … your pardon, sir. We thought …”
Elladan smiled at the woman. “It tends to be a common mistake, I fear.”
“Well, none the less, you are very welcome here.” She glanced at Legolas. “Both of you. Now, will you take shelter with us for the night? ‘Twill soon be dark, and I don’t like the look of them there clouds. I fear ‘tis going to rain again – and after the floods we had last week, too! Will you join us?”
Elladan wondered, for the thousandth time, how Elrohir did it. He had a talent for charming females of all ages – and races. “You are most kind, my lady. But we cannot …”
“It will be no trouble!” Dacy’s mother told him firmly. “I’ll understand if you say you’ve to be somewhere else this night, but if not, we’d be honoured if you’d join us. After what your brother did for Dacy here, it’s the very least we can do!”
Elladan glanced again at Legolas. There seemed to be an intriguing tale here, and he was most curious to hear it. At Legolas’ nod, Elladan turned back to the woman. “Then we accept very gratefully. Thank you.”
“Good! Then that’s settled. Dacy, run along now and tell your dada we’ve two guests, there’s a good girl.”
As Dacy raced back into the village, the two elves followed her mother, rather more slowly, somewhat surprised at the abrupt change to their plans for the evening.Stories > First > Previous > Next