The Search

Chapter 4: Of Herbs And Stewed Rabbit

by Jay of Lasgalen

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Marla, Dacy’s mother, took Elladan and Legolas to her house. It was a small dwelling near the centre of the village, and consisted of just two rooms – a main living area, and a smaller room for sleeping.  They both had to duck their heads to avoid the low lintel over the only door.  A small cooking fire burned in the hearth, and over it hung a pot, simmering fragrantly.

Marla turned to them, a little apologetic.  “It’s only vegetable stew, but there’s plenty of it!  And good, clean water to drink, from the well.  Are you thirsty, sirs, would you like a drink?”

They both drank gratefully.  Their own water had been carried all day, and was now both warm and tasteless.  Elladan went back outside to the horses, and from a bag took a pair of rabbits that had been intended for their supper when they finally halted.  “Allow us to contribute this, mistress Marla.  Will they go with your stew?”  He gave her the rabbits, and a flat loaf of lembas. 

“Thank you sirs!  A brace of coneys!  It will be a feast!”  She swiftly prepared the rabbits, and added them to the stew pot, together with an extra bunch of herbs.  “There!  Now, while we wait, will you sit?”  She indicated a pair of chairs which stood next to the table.

“Maybe later.  First, we must tend to our horses.”

Back outside, Legolas and Elladan took Balan and Laurël to the water trough, then fed them a few handfuls of grain before allowing them to graze.  Dacy followed them closely at first, but soon, seeing them engaged in such mundane tasks, she lost interest and returned to her mother.  When the little girl was safely out of earshot, Legolas turned to Elladan.  “It would seem that your brother’s charm has worked again.  And at least we have the benefit for once!”

“Yes.  How does he do it?  Legolas, I swear that if Elrohir ever encounters an orc, it will be female, and he will have it eating out of his hand in moments!”

Legolas was silent for a moment, considering the bizarre image this conjured, then shuddered.  “Now that is a truly repulsive thought!  But I have no doubts you are right.”  He glanced at the sky beyond Elladan.  The setting sun glowed an angry red before disappearing behind a bank of dark clouds massing in the west.   The air had the smell of more rain to come, heavy rain.  “But at least we will be out of the rain and sheltered tonight.  And we can put the horses in there.”   He pointed to a lean-to shelter set in the angle between Marla’s house and that next door.

Back inside, Marla introduced them to Teague, Dacy’s father.  Finally on first name terms, they dined on vegetable and rabbit stew, while outside the sky darkened and rain fell in torrents.

“So tell me,”  Elladan requested.  “How did you come to meet my brother?  What did he do?”

“It was just over a week ago.  The river was in a terrible state, we’d had days and days of rain, and a storm only the night before.  I’d rarely seen it so high or flowing so fast!   But Dacy here, she slipped away to look while my back was turned, and the next thing I knew, she was down playing by the river, for all I’d warned her how dangerous it was.  Silly, disobedient child!”  Marla chided Dacy gently.

“Then, when I called to her to  come straight back, she jumped up – and slipped.  She fell right into the water, gave just one scream, and was swept away before you could blink!  Oh, it was awful, I thought she was gone for sure!”  She shivered at the memory, drawing Dacy closer to her side.

“So what happened then?” prompted Legolas.  He had a feeling he could guess.

“Out of nowhere it seemed, someone I’d never seen before suddenly flew past me, and dived into the river.  He swam after Dacy, and managed to reach her, but already they’d both been swept a fair ways downstream.  There was another one there, Bereth, we found out his name was after, and he was shouting at your brother, saying he was foolish and to come back, and that it was too dangerous.”

Teague took up the tale.  “It was too late by then, he couldn’t have come back even if he’d wanted, the current was that strong!  Anyways, Elrohir just waved, then pointed to the bank further along.  I could tell he was planning to let the current carry them down, and swim to the side.  But what he didn’t know, couldn’t have known, was that the current there sweeps out into the middle of the river, away from the bank.  They’d be carried clear down to Tharbad!  I thought we’d lost them both, I really did.”

“So anyway, the next thing is, Bereth picks up the bow that Elrohir had dropped, and an arrow, and he tried a rope onto it, and fired it down the river to where your brother and my Dacy were.”

Elladan interrupted at this point.  “Wait a moment.  Bereth fired the arrow?  Are you sure?”  he sounded disbelieving.

Teague nodded.  “Course I’m sure!  I wouldn’t have known how to use it, that’s for sure!  Anyhow, he fired the arrow and the rope, and it landed right next to Elrohir, so he could grab a hold of it, and then we all hauled ‘em back up.  It was a long, hard task, too, let me tell you!  The river was in spate, and the current was something fierce!  And all the time, your brother had hold of Dacy in one arm, and the rope in the other hand.  When they got back, he handed Dacy up to me, an’ I passed her to her mother, and the rest of us pulled him out.”

“So you’ll see why we are so grateful to him, and why we’re so pleased you agreed to stay with us tonight,” added Marla.  She listened to the rain drumming on the thatched roof of the little house.  “And with this rain, I would think the river could well flood again.  Will you stay with us, until it goes down?  It may be a few days, I fear.”

Elladan shook his head.  “We cannot delay, I am afraid.  I thank you for your hospitality, but we have to continue tomorrow.  We are heading for Tarlong.”  He glanced down at Dacy, now asleep on her mother’s lap. “I did not say so in front of your daughter, but El – Elrohir - never reached there.  We are trying to find them both.”

“He never reached there?  Nor Bereth?  But they left first thing the next morning, and ‘tis only a matter of a couple of hours ride!  What could of happened, do you think?”

“I have no idea what could have happened.  But I fear something evil befell them both.”

“Well, I warned ‘em both, the path would be very dangerous after all that rain.  It could’ve been washed away completely, or they could’ve had to go across the marshland.  But if they never got as far as Tarlong … I wouldn’t like to say what could of befallen ‘em, that I wouldn’t!”

The little household settled for the night not long after.  Legolas and Elladan were left in the small living area, next to the banked fire.  Outside, the rain still poured down unceasingly.  They could hear it pounding on the roof, and in the distance the roaring sound of the river grew louder and louder.

As they left early the next morning, Marla emerged from the house with a small bundle.  “I always make this for Teague, when he’s out cutting the reeds.  I did two extra for you today.”  She stood beside Balan, and looked up at Elladan, in a gesture strangely reminiscent of Celebrían’s.  “I hope you find your brother.  And I hope you will stop by soon, and let us know what happened.  I’ll not say anything to Dacy for now, but – well, I hope he can come back and see her again, that’s all.  Farewell.  Gods bless ye both.”

As Marla had warned them, the path between Withypool and Tarlong proved very difficult to navigate.  Floodwaters had partially destroyed the track, and it was knee deep in mud and debris.  Elladan and Legolas had to pick their way along the trail very carefully, often leading the horses across particularly treacherous parts.  As they went, they both searched carefully for any sign of Elrohir or Bereth.  What had happened since they left Withypool?

As Legolas saw it, there were three possibilities.  Firstly, Arahad was mistaken, or lying, and the two had been safely in Tarlong the whole time.  But how could Arahad have made such an error?  His indignation in Elrond’s hall had been very real.  Alternatively, the folk at Withypool were mistaken or lying, and Elrohir had either never been there, or had never left.  That seemed so unlikely as to be unworthy of consideration.  The third possibility was that they had met some misfortune on the road since leaving Withypool.  Privately, he feared that that was the most likely alternative.  In places, the floodwater had washed away the track completely, leaving the river merging directly with the marshland.  Elladan and Legolas had to negotiate the path with great care. 

By , they reached a stretch of the river that flowed directly below the path.  There was a drop of some six inches into the swiftly rushing water.  Legolas picked his way cautiously along the track.  The river had undercut the bank here, and the footing was treacherous.  Suddenly, the ground beneath his feet gave way as the river bank collapsed, and he slipped.  Unable to gain any grip in the slick mud, his feet plunged into the water.  He made a wild grab at Laurël’s  mane, but the shifting ground had made the horse skittish, and he shied away. 

With a curse, Elladan leaped forward.  He seized Legolas by the wrist as he fell, and hauled him to safety.  Legolas sat on the bank, at a safer distance from the water, and swore steadily – in pure Quenya.  To Elladan, it seemed a surprising choice of language – personally, he had always found Dwarvish more satisfying.  The outburst relieved some of Legolas’s frustration, however.  At last, he looked up at Elladan.  “Thank you,” he said, in more moderate tones.  He glanced along the bank, both up and downstream.  “This is ridiculous!  It has taken us hours, and we are scarcely any further forward!”

The village of Withypool, which they had left that morning, was still just visible in the distance.  “Well, we should continue as quickly as possible,” Elladan pointed out.  “And you should take a little more care, my friend – this is not the place for a swim!”  His spirits had lightened somewhat since the encounter with Dacy and her family.  He was reassured by the story they had recounted; it had gone a long way to explaining what he had seen when he had imagined Elrohir struggling in the flooded river.  On the other hand, however, it confirmed that at least some of what he had seen was true.  He wondered, a little uneasily, what else may come to pass in reality.

It took them nearly a day to cover a distance that could not have been more than five miles.  Finally, late that afternoon, the track grew drier, and progress was easier.  They finally reached Tarlong shortly before dusk.  Both were mud splattered and weary. 

It was nearly dark by the time they approached the gates to the town.  They still stood open, but as they drew nearer, a guard emerged to close and bolt them for the night.  He stopped, and peered down the track cautiously as Legolas hailed him.

“Who goes there?” he called suspiciously.

“Greetings,”  replied Elladan.  “We are travellers.  Healers from Imladris.  We received a request for help from your mayor, and have come to offer you our aid.  May we enter?”

“Approach, strangers.”  The man sounded wary, but friendly enough.  He stood back to allow them to pass, watching both elves curiously.  “You come to help, you say?  You took your time!  Our messenger first left nearly two weeks ago.  When no-one came, he went again to plead with Lord Elrond.”

“I know.  I seek news as well.  Have you seen any other strangers recently?  We did send aid before, when we received your first messenger, but Arahad said no-one arrived.”

A second guard stepped from the shadows cast by the gate.  The two exchanged a cautious glance, then the first replied carefully: “We may have seen someone.  If you’d like to come this way, I can take you to our mayor.  He can give you more news, perhaps.  This way.”  He pointed along the one main street in the little town, and led the way.  “So, is he a friend of yours then, the one you’re looking for?”

“My brother,”  replied Elladan.  

“I see,” muttered the guard.  He said nothing more as he led them along the street, past shuttered houses and dark alleys.  At the end of the street, more or less in the centre of the town, there was a large building, more imposing than the other dwellings, and with the windows lamp-lit.  “In here.”

He knocked at the door, waited for an acknowledgement, then pushed it open, motioning for Elladan and Legolas to precede him.   The door opened directly into a long room, which looked like it ran the width of the house.  At the far end a man sat behind a desk littered with papers.  He was not studying any of the documents; instead he seemed deep in thought, his head in his hands.

“Wait here please,” requested their escort.   He cleared his throat. “Good evening, sir.”  As he approached the desk, the other looked up, noticing his visitors for the first time.    Then the  guard bent down, and whispered to the mayor, blissfully unaware that the two elves could hear him clearly.

“Sir, these two are from Imladris.  They finally sent the help we asked for.  Better late than never, if you ask me!  But the thing is, they say they did send help before, but he never arrived.   And the dark haired one – he says the one they’re looking for is his brother.”

“Oh, no,”  murmured the mayor.

“I know.  Could you talk to them, please sir?”

“Very well.”  The mayor stood then, dismissed the guard, and slowly walked the length of the room towards Legolas and Elladan.  They exchanged worried glances.  Both had a very uneasy feeling about this.  The people here clearly knew something about Elrohir, but it was obviously not good news.

“Good evening.  I am Aldor, mayor of this town.  I thank your Lord Elrond for sending aid at last.  But my guard tells me that you are also looking for someone?”

Elladan said nothing.  “Yes,”  replied Legolas.  “A – companion – who came this way, we believe.  Do you have news?”

“Possibly.  One of our patrols - met - an elf a few days ago.  A healer.  He carried this.”  Aldor held out a round metal disc, slightly smaller than his palm. It was embossed with the stamp and insignia of Imladris.  “Do you know it?”

Legolas glanced at the token, then at Elladan. It was clear he recognised it.  “Yes,”  Elladan spoke at last.  “I know it.  It belongs to my brother.  Where is he?  Is he still here?”

Aldor regarded Elladan with great sympathy.  “I’m truly sorry.  I’ve bad news, I’m afraid.  The elf I speak of had been attacked.  There are outlaws in the Angle.  There are always a few, but these marauders are more dangerous than most, and are taking advantage of the chaos this fever is causing.”

He hesitated, then spoke the words both Elladan and Legolas had been dreading to hear.  “When we found him, he had been dead for several days.”

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