With Friends Like These

Chapter Twenty: Troll Tales and River Racing

by Jay of Lasgalen

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Legolas met the twins and Arwen in the courtyard.  Both Elladan and Elrohir carried a bag slung over one shoulder, containing their lunch.  Legolas noticed that Elrohir seemed a little subdued.

“What’s the matter?”  he questioned.

Elladan grinned.  “It’s Taniquel.  He asked her if she could come today, but she said she wants to join in the guard’s training sessions instead.”

“She’s a warrior!”  Elrohir explained defensively.  “Of course she wants to see different training techniques!”

“Of course she does,”  Legolas said soothingly.  He knew perfectly well that Taniquel, while enjoying Elrohir’s flattering attention, was receiving a great deal of teasing from the other warriors, and this was one way for her to deal with it until they found something else to gossip about. 

Elladan led the way beneath the archway into the courtyard, and out onto the main path, the way Legolas had arrived the day before.  Almost immediately he veered off to one side, down a narrow track that led down to the river.

The valley of Imladris sloped steeply, and paths and terraces led up and down the sides of the vale, joining the gardens, lawns and streams.  They spent a morning exploring the area, the twins pointing out the places where the Games would be held; the races, the swimming, and the archery.  Legolas listened attentively, as the previous year he had won an archery competition held for first year warriors – and it would be some years before he began his warrior training.  He looked forward to competing in the Games, and hoped he would not disgrace Lasgalen or his father.

Eventually they reached the ford.  They could glimpse guards, concealed beneath the trees, watching the road on the far side.  “This is as far as we can go,” explained Elrohir.  “We can go anywhere on this side of the river, but Father says we cannot cross the ford.”

“Why not?”  Legolas was disappointed.  In Lasgalen, he was allowed to roam more or less anywhere he wished.  There were conditions, of course, but on the whole he had a great deal of freedom.

“A few miles that way -”  Elladan pointed to the west – “is an area of trees, and a few caves.  There are trolls there.  Father says it’s too dangerous, so we can’t cross the Ford.  And his realm is only on this side of the river, so this is the border.” 

Legolas was surprised at that.  He had not realised quite how small Imladris was, or by comparison, how vast his father’s Kingdom was.  Elrond’s realm was little more than the valley itself, and it was tiny compared with the Greenwood.  Rather than pointing this out, he focused on what else Elladan had said.

“Trolls,”  he mused.  “I’ve never seen trolls.  Are they really made of stone?”

“Yes.”  Elladan began.  “They’re huge, and can move around at night, but in the day they have to be in shelter, or they turn back to stone for good, and I think that -” 

“He’s guessing,”  Elrohir interrupted.  “He’s never seen a troll either.”

“Neither have you!”  Elladan retorted.  “But I -”

Arwen stamped her foot.  “Oh, stop it, both of you!  I’ve never seen a troll, but I asked Ada, and he showed me one of his books.  It said they’re a sili - sila – siliceous life form.”

“Siliceous? What’s that mean?” 

“I think it means that they’re made of stone,” commented Legolas, pleased to be proved right.

“ ‘Silly’ sounds right.  I never heard of a troll that was clever!” quipped Elrohir.

“Ada’s book said that they’re nocturnal, and there was a picture, and it was at least twice as tall as Ada,”  Arwen continued, ignoring him.  “And it said that trolls are f – f,” - she gave up -  “photo-something.”

“Photo-what?”  wondered Elladan.

Arwen shrugged.  “I can’t remember, but it meant that they were afraid of light.”

“That would make sense, if it turns them to stone!”

Elrohir thought for a moment. “Photophobic?”  he suggested.

“That was it!”

Elladan stared at his twin in disbelief.  “How did you know that?!” he demanded.

Elrohir gave them all a superior look.  “Because I spend more time in Father’s library than you do, brother dearest!  I remember the book Arwen’s talking about.  We’ll look at it tonight, and see what else it says about trolls.”

They had left the ford, and were walking upstream along a grassy track that led beneath overhanging willow trees.  The branches trailed lazily in the water.  

“A bit further on is a pool where we can swim.  There are lots of places where we can, but this pool is very deep, and under a high cliff, so we can jump in from the top of it.  It’s scary, the first time you do it!”  Elladan gave Legolas a challenging look.

“How high is it?”

Elladan considered.  “About fifteen feet.”

“And do you both do it?”

“Yes, of course!”

“Does Arwen?”

“She jumped in for the first time this summer!”

“Then so can I.”  Legolas said firmly.  “Is it the place Glorfindel showed you?”

Elrohir nodded.  “It can be scary, but it’s quite safe.  Mother refuses to watch us though, she says it terrifies her!”

“Mothers always say things like that,” Elladan said.  “But I know for a fact, because Grandfather said, that she used to climb one of the tallest trees beside the Nimrodel, go along the branches, and drop into the water!”

Arwen laughed, remembering the time Celeborn had told them that tale.  “And Ada and his brother used to climb up onto the roof of their house, and drop things down the chimney!”

Legolas joined in with a story of his own.  “My father told me that he wanted to have a pet wolf cub, he found it in the forest, and took it home to meet his parents!  And he told me another story, about when he went swimming once, and my mother took all his clothes and hid them!”

All three stared at him in disbelief.  “Your mother took his clothes?   Oh, I wish we could have met her!”  exclaimed Elrohir.

There was a brief pause.  “Yes.  So do I,” said Legolas in a flat voice.  Elrohir looked at him awkwardly. 

“Legolas, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to – remind you,” he said quietly.

Legolas managed to smile at him.  “It’s all right, you didn’t.  Lots of things remind me, anyway.  And I was the one talking about her in the first place!”

Ahead of them, the path began to climb steeply, veering away from the water.  The river was wide here, and deep, and consequently flowed very slowly.  From the bank Legolas could see the pool, the cliff rising sheer out of the water, the top overhanging the pool.  It looked very high, but he was not going to back down.  Besides, it did not look that much higher than the waterfall cliff over the pool at the beech valley at home.  Although he was not actually supposed to jump off it, he had done so once or twice.  If the twins could do it, and especially if Arwen could do it, then so could he.

Elladan paused by the river.  “We can either swim from here first, or climb up to the top and jump off.  Who wants to do what?”

“Swim!”  decided Arwen.

“Jump!”  Elrohir and Legolas declared together.

Elladan looked down at his sister.  “Never mind, Ar.  We’ll go off the top first, then swim for a while.”

She did not seem too concerned at the decision.  Together they scrambled up the steep path to the top of the cliff, where there was a flat grassed area, and a few bushes.  The precipice fell away sharply to the water below.  Legolas peered over the edge cautiously. 

It looked a long way down.  The surface of the water was rippled, and sunlight danced and reflected off the ripples.  Leaf shadows shone, creating a dappled effect.  The result was dazzling, but made it impossible to see beneath the surface of the water.  There were two paths that led up from the pool.  The one on the right was shorter but steeper, precipitous in places, while the path to the left of the river was a little longer, but easier to climb.

Leaving the picnic bags and clothes on the grass, they stripped off to their undergarments.  Then, with Elrohir first, and Elladan a heartbeat behind him, the twins leaped off the edge.  Legolas followed close behind them, not giving himself time to think twice about this. He felt a momentary fear as he jumped, but there was a sharp exhilaration as well.  The water felt cool against his skin as he plunged deep into the pool, and seemed to be a brown, peaty colour.  As he surfaced he heard a splash as Arwen hit the water as well.

All four exchanged grins of triumph, then swam to the bank, hauling themselves out of the water.  There was a brief scramble as they raced to be first to the top, using the steepest path, but Elladan won easily after Elrohir tripped over a rabbit hole, causing first Legolas, then Arwen to fall over him. 

They played for a while, alternating jumping or diving off the cliff with swimming in the pool below.  Soon, they began to be more competitive, seeing who could be first back to the top of the cliff if they all jumped off together.

Elladan and Elrohir frequently drew, usually only a few feet ahead of Legolas.  There was usually an argument over which of them had been first, so in the end Legolas agreed to referee the race.

He watched carefully as both the twins leaped off the cliff together.  It was impossible to tell who hit the water first, and equally difficult to see whether Elladan or Elrohir was in the lead as they swam to the bank. He waited,  counting under his breath until they appeared at the top of the steepest path, collapsing in  a heap on the grass.

“Well?  Who won?”  They demanded breathlessly.

Legolas hesitated.  He had thought he had them sorted out, but like this, wet, stripped almost naked, it was impossible to tell them apart.  “Umm – Arwen?  Do you know?”

She rolled her eyes at him.  “Legolas!  Can’t you tell the difference?  El won!”

One of the twins stood up, grinning broadly.

Legolas was still none the wiser.  “Arwen?”  he whispered.  “Which El?”

“Elladan, of course!  You’re a hopeless judge if you can’t tell them apart!  Do you want me to do it?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  That might be a good idea.”

“Well, in that case, you might as well join in the race,” she pointed out.

The three lined up at the cliff edge.  At Arwen’s signal, they jumped.  As Legolas came back up to the surface, he found a foot only inches from his face, and grabbed at it.  Elrohir spun around with a squawk.  “Legolas!  I’m sorry, did I kick you?”

“No!  But I think we’re a bit too close together. We’ll end up hitting each other! Maybe we should spread out a bit?”

“That’s a good idea!”  Elladan called.  “We’ll go back up to the top, then try again!”

Back at the cliff edge again, they lined up, then Legolas took a few steps to the right.  Elladan, on the far side, moved to the left.  Safely spread out, they jumped again on Arwen’s count.

Wanting to ensure he avoided Elrohir again, Legolas leaped well over to the right.  It would also carry him a little closer to the edge of the pool – and nearer the path.  But as he came down into the water, an agonising pain shot through his foot and leg.  Instead of kicking back up to the surface, he was held fast.  Startled, he looked down, to see that he had landed on rocks, unseen beneath the water, and that his foot was trapped between two boulders.  He tried to pull free, but could not move.  Rather worried, he pulled again, but his ankle was caught tightly. 

There was a narrow gap between the boulders, and he was wedged firmly in the tight space.  The sharp edges had already cut his ankle, and a wisp of blood tinged the clear water.  Scared now, he wriggled again, bracing his free foot against the stone, and pulled hard.  Still nothing happened.  Desperately, he tried to move his foot forward, then backward, but it would not move an inch.

He told himself firmly that panicking would not help the situation, that he needed to keep a clear head.  Looking upward through the water, he tried to see if he could spot Elladan or Elrohir, wondering if they would be able to see him, but the ripples and sun speckles made it impossible to see anything above the surface.  That probably meant that they would be unable to see him either. 

Legolas tried very hard to think about his predicament rationally.  If his foot had gone into the gap, surely it could come back out?  Feeling more and more frightened, he tugged again, wondering how long he could hold his breath.  Bracing his left foot again, he pulled as hard as he could, feeling the rough stone cutting deeply into his heel and ankle.  More blood darkened the water.  He bit his lip at the searing pain, but it was to no avail.  He was still jammed fast, and looked up desperately at the surface again.

Would they realise there was something wrong?  Would they notice that he had not surfaced?  Elladan and Elrohir could easily assume that he was in front of them, and heading for the cliff top again.

He tried again, desperately, to twist free, and tried bending down, holding his leg by the calf, and pulling that.  By now he was very frightened indeed, but his struggles were becoming weaker.  It was harder and harder to think clearly. His chest and lungs were burning with the need to breathe, and bright spots and sparkles seemed to hover in front of him.  There was a roaring, pounding sound in his head that seemed to keep time with his frantic heartbeat, deafening his panicked thoughts.  The spots and sparkles of light dimmed as the darkness surrounding him intensified.

Gradually, he stopped struggling, and slowly began to succumb to the pervasive darkness all around him.  His last coherent thought was regret at missing the Games, and that this would surely rather spoil Elrond’s council.

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