The Search

Chapter 8: Friends Reunited

by Jay of Lasgalen

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Elladan swallowed, looking down at his brother anxiously.  “El?  Please answer me!”  he begged.  The only sign that Elrohir lived was the very slight rise and fall of his chest, but he showed no sign of awareness. 

Elladan fought down his panic.  He told himself that he had to forget that this was his twin, who could be dying, but that he had to diagnose what was wrong with him, just as he would with any other patient.  He placed the back of his hand on Elrohir’s brow, testing for fever.  It felt cool, dry; not hot as he had feared, and instead of being flushed, Elrohir was very pale, his face almost grey.  Elladan leaned forward, placing his head on his brother’s chest, listening.  Victims of the plague had laboured breathing as they struggled for breath as their lungs filled with fluid.  Elrohir’s breathing was shallow, but quiet and uncongested.  Next he carefully lifted the outflung hand.  As he placed it back on the shabby mattress, he monitored the pulse.  It beat weakly, far more slowly than normal.  And there was more.  Through their link, he could feel his awareness of Elrohir’s presence was faint, worryingly faint.  He frowned.  There was something seriously wrong here, but Elrohir did not appear to be ill from the fever, so what ailed him? 

Elladan looked up as a shadow fell across him.  It was Tiama, and she looked down at Elrohir with a slight smile.  “He’s asleep.  And about time too!”

“Asleep?”  Elladan was certain it was not that simple.  Elrohir was closer to unconsciousness than mere sleep. “I wondered if he had caught this fever.”

Tiama shook her head.  “No, he’s about the only one who hasn’t!  He said elves were unaffected by such things.  But since he arrived here – what, ten days ago? – he’s been working with the sick here, single-handed most of the time, without a break.  He’s exhausted.”

Elladan wondered about that.  While simple exhaustion could account for some of his brother’s condition, he knew that there was something more, something he was missing.  But what? 

Legolas bent down beside him.  “Elladan?  Do you know what is wrong?”

Elladan shook his head, frustrated.  “No. Not yet.  I can find nothing that would account for this.”  He looked up at Tiama again.    “You said he had been treating the sick?”

Tiama nodded.  She still stood over them, her expression now even more concerned than before.  Her assumption that Elrohir was simply asleep had been proved wrong, and she could tell from his brother’s reaction that he was deeply worried.  “Yes.  He was so gentle, so caring.  He has great skill.  But for all that, there was nothing we could do for some of the sick, no matter what he did.  He took it hard, when they died.  Especially the children.”  Tiama’s expression was sympathetic.

Elladan began to get the uneasy feeling that he knew what it was that was the matter with Elrohir.  He just hoped he was wrong.  “No matter what he did?  What did he do when he treated them?”

“Well, I’ve never seen anything like it!  It seemed as if his very touch soothed them, before we used any of the medicines he brought.”

Elladan understood, now, what ailed Elrohir. He looked back at his twin in dismay, smoothing the hair back from his brow.  “Oh El, you fool!  I thought you knew better!” he said softly.

“What do you mean?”  Legolas questioned him.

“I mean that he was using his own strength, his own energy, to heal the sick and ease their pain.  It is something that he can do far more easily than I can, though we have never known why.  When there are just one or two, it is of no matter.  But with this many –” he waved a hand at the crowded infirmary – “it could leave him dangerously weakened.  He knows better than that!”  he repeated.

Elladan sat down at one end of the mattress and pulled Elrohir towards him, so that his head rested in his brother’s lap.  Placing one hand on his twin’s chest, Elladan extended his own senses to judge his condition.  What he found reassured him a little – but only slightly. Elrohir was exhausted, and very weak, but perhaps not quite as dangerously so as he had feared.  Maybe he had not been so recklessly rash after all in healing these people, but he still needed help.  Closing his eyes, Elladan concentrated, imparting what little of his own strength he could to replenish Elrohir’s depleted energy.  After a while he felt his brother’s heartbeat quicken, returning to normal, and a little of the exhaustion lifted, although he remained deeply asleep.

He looked up at the sound of Legolas’ voice.  He still looked concerned. 

“Elladan?  I think you should stay here for now, and look after Elrohir.  I can help Tiama.  And I need to tell Derufin and Dervorin that we have found what we sought.”  Legolas watched Elladan closely as he spoke.  The difference that had come over him since their arrival and discovery of Elrohir was remarkable.  It was if an immense shadow had been lifted from him, but now the weariness of several sleepless nights was catching up.  Elladan had been as tense as a coiled spring for far too long, and the release of that tension, which had been driving him for the past week or so, had left him limp with reaction.

Elladan nodded, yawning, and he leaned back against the wall.  Elrohir’s head still lay pillowed in his lap.  “Very well.  Just for a moment, while you talk to the others.  Call me if you need me.”

Even as Legolas agreed, he knew it would take a very grave emergency before he would consider disturbing Elladan now.  He was already drifting into sleep, his eyes becoming glazed and unfocused.

It was past before Elladan awoke.  He came to with a slight start, wondering where he was, but then the events of the morning came back to him.  Elrohir was still asleep, his eyes still closed, but he did not seem to be as deeply comatose as before.  Elladan shook his shoulder slightly.  “El?  Wake up,”  he called softly.   Elrohir stirred, very slightly, and muttered something, but did not wake.

Elladan shook his twin again, a little harder this time.  “El?  It’s me.  Wake up!”  This, finally, got a reaction. 

“El?  Leave me alone.  Go ‘way.  Let me sleep!” Elrohir mumbled.  One hand lifted, flapped feebly at the hand shaking his shoulder, then dropped again as he subsided back into sleep.  After a while, though, the words finally penetrated his haze of exhaustion and fatigue, and his eyes slowly flickered open as he gradually came back to awareness.  Propping himself up on one elbow, he blinked again, totally bewildered and disorientated.  “El?”  he asked disbelievingly.  “I thought I could hear you.  What are you doing here?”

Elladan gave a broad smile.  “I came to find you, little brother.  I was worried about you.  We wondered where you were.”

“Worried?  Why?  Anyway, I was here.”  Elrohir blinked again, still rather confused with sleep, and yawned.  “El, much as I love you, let me sleep, for the Valar’s sake!” he pleaded.  “I will talk to you later.” 

“Very well, brother.  Sleep for now, and rest.”  Elladan suddenly leaned forward and hugged Elrohir tightly.  “I missed you, little brother,” he murmured.  The twins rarely embraced; they had no need to show or speak of the deep affection between them that lay beneath their bond.

Elrohir yawned again.  “I missed you too.”  He sank back into sleep, but this time it was the normal, open-eyed sleep Elladan was used to.  Elladan picked up the cloak which lay pooled on the floor next to the mattress, and folded it carefully for a pillow for his brother.  He looked down at his twin.  Now that the euphoria of actually finding him had worn off, there were other concerns clamouring for his attention.  But they would have to wait for now.  Leaving Elrohir still sleeping, he rose and went to find Legolas or Tiama.

Later that evening, Elladan and Legolas stepped outside into the cool air.  For the moment, there was nothing to be done for the sick, and they both craved the fresh air, free of the taint of sickness.  They sat on a patch of grass in the ‘L’ of the building, where in happier times the children of the little school played after their lessons.

Elladan leaned back against the white-painted wall, deeply troubled, and needing to talk of his worries.  The clamouring concerns had intensified during the afternoon.  “It was so strange to see Elrohir like that.  It was exactly what I had seen in my nightmares – the room, the beds in the corner, the way he lay, even the hole in the edge of the mattress, and the marks on the floor!  Legolas, it was accurate in every detail!”  he said without preamble.

“So you know that you really have inherited your Grandmother’s foresight.  But now you know that the other visions, where you foresaw his death cannot be true as well.  We have found Elrohir.  He is safe and well – or will be.  You have no more need to fear your dreams, Elladan!”  Legolas paused, glancing sideways at his friend.  Elladan still did not look reassured.  If anything, he looked even more troubled.

“Maybe.  Maybe not.  Every time I sleep, or rest, or allow my mind to wander, there is one scene I see again and again, in greater and clearer detail each time.”  Elladan closed his eyes briefly, and took a deep breath.  “I wish it would stop,”  he whispered.

“What is it you see?”  Perhaps it would help Elladan to talk of his fears.

Elladan did not answer immediately.  At last he began to speak, slowly and hesitantly.  “It is at Imladris.  In the infirmary.  I see you there, waiting, and my father, tending him.  And I see Elrohir.  He has a fever, and is in such pain!  And –”  he stopped again.

“Go on,”  Legolas prompted him.

“And he is calling for me.  Over and over, just calling my name.  And – and crying.  Nothing else.  But I cannot seem to help him.  And with each passing day I fear more and more that this is also a true dream, that this lies in his future somewhere.  In our future.”

“Where are you in this vision?”

But Elladan shook his head.  “I cannot see myself there anywhere.  And why am I unable to help him, to comfort him?  Why does El call for me so hopelessly?  Legolas, where am I in this future?  I do not fear death, not for myself, but I fear that if anything happened to me, it would destroy Elrohir.”

“You do not know that.”

“Yes.  I do.  I know how I felt, when Aldor told us El was dead.  It was devastating.  And –”  he stopped again, looking down at the ground.  Then he lifted his head, and Legolas saw tears glimmering in his eyes.  “I would not want to live without him.  I did not truly realise that until then.”

Legolas said nothing for a moment.  He had not realised just how deep the bond between the twins was.  “But you still have no idea if this is a true dream, or one which will never happen.”  He spoke slowly, feeling his way through this complex morass.  “Or if it may come to pass in many hundreds, even thousands of years from now.  Or you may be misinterpreting what you have seen.  Elladan, do not live in fear of a future which may never happen.  I think –”  he broke off abruptly as Elladan suddenly looked up at the school.  Seconds later,  a door in the wall opened and Elrohir emerged, blinking a little as the low evening sun struck him.

“So you really are both here!  I thought I was dreaming earlier, but Tiama said you arrived this morning.  Why did you not wake me?”  He smiled broadly as Elladan and Legolas stood and greeted him warmly.

“Oh, we tried, little brother, believe me, but you were sound asleep!  So we left you to it.  You obviously need your beauty sleep.”  Elladan’s mood had switched very quickly.

Elrohir automatically protested as he always did.  “Stop calling me that!

“Yes, why do you call him ‘little brother’?  I often wondered.”  Legolas asked curiously.

“Because I know it annoys him.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Legolas left to return to the infirmary and relieve Tiama, leaving the twins together.

“So, tell me little brother, how did you end up here?  You were supposed to be going to Tarlong.  This is scarcely on the most direct route.”

Elrohir leaned back against the wall and began his tale.  “We had atrocious weather.  The river was in flood, and below Withypool the track was impassable.  We had to take the long way, and travelled west across the marshes.  This was the first town we came to, and when I saw the conditions here … they were in a terrible state.  Tiama was the only healer, struggling to cope with dozens of patients, and she had fallen sick herself.  I could not travel on and ignore their need, although we had already promised help to Tarlong.  I knew Bereth could not possibly cope with the situation here, he is only an apprentice, so I sent him on to Tarlong, and stayed here myself.  I told him to send to me for help if he could not manage on his own.  That was a few days ago.  I heard nothing, so I assume he was able to cope.”

Elladan sighed.  In a few simple sentences, Elrohir had explained everything – and nothing.  “What did you do when you arrived here?”

“I began to treat the sick.  There were so many.  Tiama was able to tell me what she had done so far, before she became too ill to speak.  I tried to help all of them … there were so many.  I tried to ease their pain, to make their breathing easier.  So many of them still died.  But the worst cases were the children.  They were so vulnerable, so scared.”  Elrohir swallowed, his voice thick with tears.  “There was one little girl – her parents and brothers had already died.   She was so young, El, so frightened.  I tried everything, but she still died. She died as I held her.  There was nothing I could do.  She was so young …”  He dropped his head onto his raised knees, and began to weep.

There was nothing Elladan could say.  He placed an arm around his brother’s shoulders, and held him, offering wordless comfort.  “El, I know there was nothing you could do for some of the sick.  But think how many more would have died, if you had not been able to help them.”

“I should have tried harder …” 

“I doubt if even Father could have saved them.  And I know I could not - you know I do not have your skill!   El, I know how hard you tried.  You used so much of your own energy you made yourself ill.  When we arrived this morning and found you –”  Elladan broke off.  “Anyway, how long have you been  working here?  When did you arrive?”

“It must have been four, maybe five days ago, I suppose,” Elrohir replied.

“According to Tiama, it was ten days ago.  And that would fit in with when you left home.”

Ten days?”  Elrohir looked disbelieving.  “I have been here ten days ago?  No wonder I felt so tired.  Oh, poor Bereth!  He must think I have abandoned him!  He was already furious with me before we got this far.”

Elladan had already realised that Elrohir had no way of knowing what had happened to Bereth.  “Why was that?”  he asked.

“It was just as we approached Withypool.  There was a little girl, playing by the river.  She fell in, and the water was flowing so swiftly she was swept away at once.  So I went in after her.  Well, how could I stand by and watch her drown?  But the force of the water was much greater that I had expected.  There were a few – interesting – moments.”  Elrohir relived the terrifying minutes when he had believed he and the child would both drown.  “Bereth was amazing.  He used my bow, and shot a rope downstream so I could grab it, and they pulled us both out.  But Bereth was so angry!  He wanted to know what I thought I was doing,  if I had any sense at all, and how he was supposed to explain to Father that I had drowned in the Bruinen, of all places.”  Elrohir chuckled.  “Poor Bereth.  His face, when he realised what he was saying, who he was saying it to, was a picture!  Perhaps you or Legolas could go to Tarlong, see how he is managing.”

Elladan steeled himself.  He would have to tell his brother what had happened to Bereth.  “El – we just came from Tarlong, we thought that was where you were going.  Bereth never got there.  He was attacked on the road by bandits, and killed.  He was found a few days ago.”

“Bereth?  Bereth is dead?  But how?  Why?” 

In as much detail as he was able, Elladan explained what he knew.  Elrohir went white as he heard the details of Bereth’s death.

“Bereth.  This is my fault,” he whispered.  “I should never have sent him off on his own.  I knew there was danger, we had been warned about the raiders at Withypool, and at Langwell.  This is my fault!” he repeated despairingly. 

“No.  You cannot blame yourself!”  Elladan told him.  “You had no way of knowing this would happen, El.  It is the responsibility of those who killed him.  It is not your fault!” 

“Yes.  It is.”  Elrohir replied flatly.  “I knew he was no warrior – how could he possibly defend himself?  I should have gone to Tarlong myself, and left Bereth here, in safety, where he would still be alive!”

Elladan tried again to reassure his brother.  “El, I know how you must feel.  But it is not your fault.  Did you know this would happen?  Did you know he would be attacked?  Did you kill him?  Then how can it be your fault?  I know how you feel, but – ” he took a step backwards as Elrohir rounded on him.

“NO!  Stop this!  I should have realised, I knew there could be danger!  How can you possibly know how I feel, have you ever sent a friend to his death?  Then do not presume to know!”

“But Elrohir –”  Elladan tried again.

Leave me, Elladan!  How can you possibly know how I feel?”  Elrohir demanded.  He whirled, and disappeared through the door into the infirmary, slamming it resoundingly behind him.

Elladan stared after him, stunned at the fury Elrohir had displayed.  “How can I know how you feel?  Because I am your bother,” he whispered into the echoing silence.

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