The four rode out from the gates, but did not, as both Elladan and Legolas expected, take the road that the previous group had used. Instead they turned to the right, travelling north along the banks of the Mitheithel.
“Where did you find Bereth?” Elladan asked them.
“Several miles upstream from here. We should get there sometime after . The track follows the river bank, but it’s well above the flood level,” Derufin told him.
“But – ” Elladan fell silent, pondering what Derufin had said. “The last we heard of them both, they were at Withypool, on the Bruinen, planning to travel downstream to Tarlong. How did Bereth come to be here, on this side of the Angle? He would have had to have passed through Tarlong to get here!”
Dervorin shook his head. “Not necessarily. That part of the Bruinen can be very treacherous at times. Maybe they decided to cut across country instead, north of the marshes, and travelled west, across the Angle, then south along this river.”
“We know about the Bruinen. The path was all but impassable when we came that way, and very dangerous. But I did not realise there was another route.” Elladan considered this new information with a sinking heart. Their search for Elrohir would have to be widened to cover a much larger area. “What is the land like there? Is it inhabited? How many villages or towns are there?”
“Well, there’s a handful of villages in the central area, north of the marshes. It’s good farmland there, and there’s some very isolated settlements. There’s one or two more villages along the river, but only one town, Barlynch. It’s a fair size, bigger than Tarlong. It’s just over a day’s journey away. If your two did go that way, they may well have called at Barlynch – it would be on their route south. We could make our way there to make enquiries.”
The track they followed began to rise. The land grew steeper, climbing through trees along the side of the valley. Gradually they moved away from the river as it fell away below them. In places they could still see the water rushing beneath the trees, but the wooded slope grew denser and denser and the glimpses of river fewer. Eventually they reached a part of the path where the drop was almost sheer, cliffs and slopes of scree dropping down straight to the river, with gnarled trees, scrub and stunted bushes clinging precariously to the rock face.
As they approached, both Elladan and Legolas grew tense. This place was dangerous, the perfect spot for an ambush. On one side of the narrow path the slope fell steeply down to the river. On the other side a cliff rose, almost sheer for about twenty feet, crowned by trees and undergrowth. The path continued to narrow, until they had to ride single file, directly beneath the overhanging cliff. Elladan felt all his senses screaming a warning. There was danger here. Neither he nor Legolas were surprised when Dervorin reined his horse to a halt.
“This is where we found Bereth. Just here. We think he was ambushed there –” he pointed to the narrow path – “and fought them off. There were signs of a struggle. We found the medallion somewhere here. Make sure you keep alert for danger.”
Elladan examined the ground. There was little to be seen now, after several days and heavy rain, just a few flattened bushes and some trampled ground But there were still ominous dark stains on the path, which the rain had been unable to wash away. He searched further into the undergrowth, looking for anything at all, something which could indicate whether Bereth had been alone or not. He found nothing, no scrap of clothing or spent arrows, no trace of the medicines Bereth had carried, no trace of his horse. Nothing.
Meanwhile Legolas had been searching on the other side of the path, peering down towards the river, examining the slope and bushes which grew there. Suddenly he stiffened, moving along the path to one end, and kneeling on the track to see more closely. There, some distance below him, caught on a branch of one of the scrubby bushes, something glinted and caught his eye, a long silvery strand that shimmered in the sunlight. He looked more carefully, studying the cliff side again. There were traces of scuffed earth, places where the grass and trees had been ripped from their roots. Something, something heavy, had fallen down the cliff here. And what was that, at the base of the slope, by the rocks at the edge of the river …?
*Ai, Valar, no! *
“Derufin?” he called softly. “Look down there. Tell me what you see.”
The guard looked where Legolas indicated. Then he raised his head sharply, turning wide, startled eyes on his companion. “It looks – it looks like – someone fell. And down there, at the bottom, at the water’s edge – is that … a body?” In a rocky pool far below, a dark shape floated on the water.
“I think so. I cannot tell from here. I will have to climb down and look.” It would be an easy climb, the slope was not quite sheer, and there were several hand and footholds in the rocky crevasses. Legolas turned, and was about to scramble down the cliff side to investigate when a hand seized his arm in a strong grip. Startled, he looked up at Elladan, who was thrusting a rope at him.
“Take this. Please. I know you can climb that easily, but take it anyway. Legolas, I already have to tell Bereth’s family of their son’s death. I do not want to have the same conversation with your father. I do not want to lose you too.” His face was tense, but he made no mention of what they had all seen at the foot of the cliff.
Nodding, Legolas tied the rope around his waist, knotting it securely. While it was straightforward, he was not a fool, and had no wish to take unnecessary risks. And if it helped to put Elladan’s mind at rest, he would do it. Then, while Dervorin and Derufin held the rope, he lowered himself off the edge. First he clambered across to the bright thread he had seen before. As he had thought, it was a long, slender chain of mithril, and matched the one Elladan wore. Carefully, he disentangled it from the branches it had become snagged on, coiling it in his hand before tucking it safely into an inner pocket. Descending further, he looked down to the rocks below and the dark shape he had seen before. He had been right. It was someone, lying face down in the water, dark hair fanning out around the head.
On the trail at the top of the slope, Elladan stood still as a statue, his arms wrapped tightly about his chest, looking down at the water foaming below, but not really seeing it. He was aware that the two guards, while concentrating on Legolas’ progress down the cliff, kept casting him anxious glances, concerned at his reaction – or rather, what his reaction would be, depending on what Legolas found. He wondered how much more of this he could take – the uncertainty, the fear, the heart-stopping moments of dread, and the interminable periods waiting for Legolas to tell him Elrohir was dead. The resulting see-sawing emotions were a torment, veering from black despair to joyous, giddy relief, then plunging again to the grey uncertainty of not knowing his twin’s fate. Elladan sighed, waiting impatiently, yet not wanting to hear what Legolas may say. What was keeping his friend? How long did it take him to climb down? What would he find? Would he even be able to identify Elr – whoever it was, he corrected himself firmly – after so long?
Legolas glanced up to the top of the cliff, wondering how much the others could see. The two guards, still holding tightly to the rope, looked back, and he could see the question in their eyes, the concern. Finally standing precariously on the slippery rocks, he could see the body more clearly. The hair was shorter, slightly curled, and flecked with grey. Not Elrohir. Immediately, he shouted up to the others. “Elladan! It’s not him! Someone older. I shall see what else I can tell.”
As he drew closer, he could make out more details. It was a man. The clothes were shabby, much torn and mended. Who was he? One of Bereth’s attackers, or another of their victims? With a grimace of distaste, he turned the body over, to reveal a dagger buried deep in the man’s chest. The hilt was delicately carved and engraved, unmistakeably Elvish in design. That appeared to answer one question. But whose knife was it? Elladan would certainly recognise it if it was Elrohir’s. Bending again, he seized the hilt and with a deep breath pulled it free, washing the blood off in the water. Then he gripped the man’s clothes and heaved him into the river, watching dispassionately as the roaring water carried him away.
Tucking the dagger securely in his belt, he called to Derufin and Dervorin that he was climbing back up, and began the ascent. At the top, he stood again on firm ground, and untied the rope around his waist.
“Elladan? He must have been one of those who attacked Bereth. But I found this. Do you know it?” Legolas gave the dagger to Elladan, who looked at it closely, but then returned it.
“I know it does not belong to Elrohir. It must be Bereth’s. And he killed the man? Good. He did well. He was never much of a warrior!”
“Elladan … this is all I found. Nothing else. So we still have no idea if Elrohir was with Bereth.”
“Then we continue to search.” Elladan turned to the two guards. “North, did you say? How far is this town? Can we get there tonight?”
Derufin shook his head. “Not really. It’s too far. I think we should get away from here, and camp overnight, then continue in the morning. We should get there by mid day at the latest.”
They continued on along the path as the land rose higher, until they came out of the trees onto open ground. Dusk was falling as they made camp, selecting a sheltered spot screened by rocks. Lighting a small fire, for the night was chill, they ate and talked, while the night darkened around them. Dervorin and his brother explained how the illness had first come to Tarlong, and when they had first realised that it was far more serious than the usual sicknesses that came every year.
“So that was when Mayor Aldor decided we needed help. He sent out his messenger, Arahad, to Rivendell – we were that grateful when he come back and said you’d agreed! But time went by, and no one came. We thought …” Derufin looked rather shame-faced. “We thought your Da had let us down. That he’d broke his word. There was a lot of ill-feeling towards elves for a while, but Aldor said there had to be some mistake, and he told Arahad to go back and ask again. Then we was out on patrol, and found Bereth – well, it were easy to work out what had happened. We felt right bad for doubting you!”
They settled for the night, with Dervorin taking the first watch. The light breeze dropped, and the silence grew, broken only by the calls of nocturnal creatures and the distant rush of the river.
As Elladan lay by the fire, he looked up at the stars. They were unusually bright on this moonless, cloudless night, and Eärendil was clearly visible low on the horizon. He wondered whimsically if Eärendil could see him, too. Had he seen what had befallen his grandson? He stifled a sigh, returning to the question he had asked himself repeatedly for the last week or more. Where was Elrohir? Was he dead? How? Why? Had he, like Bereth, been killed or left to die, lying exposed to the winds and cold rain? Or was he buried in some unmarked grave, forever nameless and unknown? Perhaps he was sick or injured, so ill he no longer had any memory of who or where he was? Or was he alone and helpless somewhere, wondering why his only brother had abandoned him?
Instead of soothing him, the peace and tranquillity of the night seemed at last to release all his pent up fears and anxieties, as the emotions he had tried so hard to suppress for so long finally overwhelmed him. Elladan swallowed against the hard lump he could feel swelling in his throat, and took a ragged breath. He could feel tears burning at his eyes as well, and turned over, burying his face in the crook of his arm to stifle his sobs as he wept helplessly, silently, for his missing twin.
Legolas heard the soft sounds of Elladan’s tears, and wished futilely that there was something he could say or do to offer some comfort, or ease his friend’s distress. But what? He would not offer false hope; they both knew the likely outcome of this search, if indeed they found anything at all. He rolled over, careful not to alert Dervorin who was on watch, but the movement brought him a little closer to Elladan. He stretched out one hand, resting it on his friend’s shoulder, which still shook slightly.
“Elladan?” he whispered. “Elladan, I wish I could help you. But remember, no matter what, I will do all I can to aid you. You have my friendship and support. You always will. I hope you know that. You do not have to be totally alone.”
“I know. Thank you.” Elladan’s voice was a little muffled. Then he turned his head. “Thank you, Legolas. Your words mean much to me.” He managed to give a shaky laugh. “If we do find Elrohir, I swear I am going to kill him for causing so much trouble!” The laugh turned into another near sob as Elladan repeated softly to himself, “If we do find him. Legolas, do you know what frightens me most? Not that El is dead, thought I dread that, but that we never find out what happened to him. Never. We will just – continue – always wondering.” His voice shook again.
There was little Legolas could say, but he tried. “If that does happen, then at least you will always be able to have hope. Hope that one day you will find him. Elladan, do not give up. We may still find him, safe and well somewhere!”
“Do you really believe that?”
Legolas hesitated. He could not lie to Elladan. He sighed. “No. Not really. Not now. But I will not give up hope either.”
“Legolas? Thank you. I do not think I could endure this alone.” He turned away, and fell silent.
Legolas knew he would not sleep that night, not now, with so much to think about. He rose, and sent Dervorin to his rest, keeping watch silently over the camp, remembering sadly some of the wild times and adventures he had had with the twins. They had once saved his life when he had nearly drowned in the Bruinen. And there had been the breathtakingly foolhardy journey alone, at night, when he and Elrohir had decided to see if the rumours of trolls in the woods outside Imladris were true. There had been spider hunts in Lasgalen, one of which had ended in total disaster. And the time when Glorfindel had challenged the three of them to go on a hunt for a rare creature that had been spotted in the hills above Imladris. It had been truly rare, a figment of Glorfindel’s fertile imagination. As dawn broke, he roused the others for another long, probably fruitless day.
It was mid-morning by the time they reached Barlynch. The guard at the gate watched them closely, but saluted them as they stopped. He looked a little surprised, then turned and called towards a building behind him. “Tiama! Tiama, come here!”
After a while, a woman came out from a long, low, L-shaped building built beneath the shelter of the town walls. She squinted in the sunlight and looked enquiringly at the guard.
“Visitors,” he explained. “I thought you’d be interested in them.” Leaving Derufin and Dervorin with the horses, talking to the guard, Elladan and Legolas approached the woman as she came forward, until she could see them clearly. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell slightly open in an expression of extreme surprise, and she glanced over her shoulder at the building she had just left. Swallowing her surprise, she smiled as she approached, and extended one hand to Elladan in welcome. “You must be Elladan? Greetings! My name’s Tiama, and I know who you must be, your brother speaks of you often!”
Elladan felt a flood of relief rush through him. After so long, had they at last found Elrohir? “Yes, I am. Is Elrohir here? I have been looking for him for several days now,” he said, a little hoarsely. He felt totally stunned at the unexpected welcome.
“In there,” she pointed. “Come on, I’ll show you. This way.”
They followed her across the yard and into the building. “This used to be our school,” she explained as they entered a small, crowded room. “When the fever came, we turned it into an infirmary – it was the only place big enough for all the victims. There were so many! We lost many in the first few days, but things finally seem to be easing. It’s mostly thanks to Elrohir. Since he arrived several days ago he’s been working with those who are sick.” She sighed, and an expression of concern flitted across her face.
They followed her along a narrow aisle between two rows of beds, pushed very close together. There was a small gap of space between every other bed, so that the sick could be tended. “The ones in here are not so seriously ill, or are recovering. The worst cases are in the next room. Or ward, I suppose we should call it now.” Every bed was occupied by men and women, old and young. A few were sitting, but many lay still, resting or sleeping, Legolas hoped. Several were coughing harshly, or had laboured breathing.
Tiama went through a door in the end wall into a second room, and turned to them. The smile with which she had greeted Elladan had faded, and she looked grim. “The ones here are very ill. Many have died, but their beds were soon filled again. And there’s some we still fear for.”
This ward was smaller, and even more packed. Alongside the beds mattresses had been placed on the floor to accommodate even more patients. To Elladan, the place seemed strangely familiar, yet he knew he had never been here before. A miasma of sickness and death hung in the air of the overcrowded room. One man tossed feverishly, and cried out to Tiama weakly. She went to his side, talking to him softly and reassuringly, then looked back briefly.
“Excuse me a moment. I have to see to Raich. Your brother’s over there.” She pointed to the far end of the room. Elladan looked, but could see no sign of Elrohir, there seemed to be no other healers apart from Tiama.
“Down there in the corner. I’m sorry, we ran out of proper beds long ago.” She turned back to the man, Raich, lifting his head so that he could drink, and wiping his face with a damp cloth.
With a deep sense of foreboding, Elladan picked his way along the floor, Legolas at his heels. There, squeezed in an angle between two beds, a rough mattress had been placed on the floor. Elladan knew now why the room had seemed so familiar. It was what he had seen in his visions.
Elrohir lay there, unmoving. His eyes were closed, and lines of pain and exhaustion were etched on his pale face. One arm was outstretched and his hand trailed limply on the dusty floor. Finding a few spare inches of space, Elladan knelt by the mattress. “El? Elrohir? Can you hear me?” he asked softly.
Elrohir did not stir. Elladan reached out and gently brushed a wayward strand of dark hair away from his brother’s face. “Elrohir?” he whispered again. He waited, but there was no responseStories > First > Previous > Next