The games were over, and the debates of the elf lords in council had been satisfactorily concluded. In a few more days, Thranduil, Legolas, and their entourage would return to Lasgalen, and with the departure of the last of the guests, Imladris would return to its usual peace and tranquillity.
At breakfast on the day following the official closing of the Council, a messenger arrived for Elrond. “My lord, our scouts have reported finding traces of trolls again. It seems they have returned to their caves in the woods in the Trollshaws.”
Elrond sighed. “Thank you. Would you find Glorfindel, and send him to me? I do not see him here.”
With a salute, the messenger left. He left a buzz of conversation in his wake, and a great deal of excitement on the tables where the younger elves sat. Trolls were a periodic problem in the area, preying on unwary travellers and merchants using the great East-West road and the trading routes along the banks of the Bruinen and Mitheithel rivers.
“Did you hear what he said? Trolls!”
“Where in the Trollshaws? My father says it’s a big area.”
“Do you think we’d be allowed to go and see? We could look for them!”
“I already knew all about them. My father’s one of the scouts who found them!”
Elladan and Elrohir listened as avidly as all the others as the trolls were discussed, and wild, improbable plans made to investigate. Eventually Elladan, realising the futility of the schemes, finished his breakfast and left the table with a wave to his brother and Legolas. “I’ll see you later, El.”
As the ideas grew wilder and wilder, Elrohir tried to inject a note of sanity to the proceedings. “You know we’d never be allowed to go. We can’t cross the river anyway, and it would be far too dangerous!”
The elfling who had bragged about knowing of the trolls in advance, turned on him in scorn. “Too dangerous!” he repeated. “Just because you don’t dare, just because your father won’t trust you to go that far!”
Elrohir bit down on the flare of anger that surged inside him. “You know that’s not true, Finglor. You wouldn’t be allowed either. None of us would.” He tried hard to maintain a reasonable tone.
“You mean you wouldn’t dare. You’re scared, Elrohir!” Finglor teased him.
Privately, Elrohir considered that anyone with any sense would be scared of trolls, but he was not going to mention that in front of Finglor. In any case, Finglor, although he certainly did not have much sense, was probably scared too. “Well, you wouldn’t get me or Elladan going anywhere near them. If the trolls didn’t catch you, the guards would!” he said firmly.
“ ‘Me or Elladan’ ” Finglor mocked. “Of course, you wouldn’t do anything without him, would you?” His words were getting more vicious. “You never do. You never say or do anything on your own! You never go anywhere without your shadow! I don’t believe you can even think without him!”
“Well, I don’t see Elladan anywhere now. You’re jealous, Finglor, that’s all. Just because you haven’t got any friends!” Legolas spoke up hotly. “Leave him alone.”
Elrohir stood suddenly, pushing his chair back with a crash. “Leave it, Legolas!” he snapped. “I can fight my own battles.” He turned on Finglor. “I don’t need Elladan, or anyone else, to tell me that it’s stupid to go chasing after trolls! Only the very best warriors, like Glorfindel, will be in the patrols that hunt them. I’d like to see you try!” He thrust the chair back in beneath the table with a bang, turned, and walked quickly away, still fuming. Back at his own room he kicked the door open and slammed it violently shut behind him.
Obviously drawn by the noise, Elladan came in through the middle room they shared. It had originally been a playroom, and more recently a combined study/sitting room. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked, rather surprised. “You look annoyed.”
Scowling, Elrohir dropped onto his bed and stared at the ceiling. “It’s Finglor. He’s an idiot,” he said shortly.
“Well, I know that. We both do. Why is he an idiot this time?”
“He was going on and on about the trolls, about how he was going to go chasing after them. I told him it was stupid. Then he said that I was scared, that I’d never dare to go and look for them either, especially not on my own.” Elrohir was not sure what rankled more, the jibe about being scared, or the insinuation that he was incapable of independent action without Elladan.
Elladan shrugged. “Well, I suppose he’s right for once. It would be scary, and there’s no way you’d try to hunt for them on your own. Not without me.”
Startled, Elrohir sat up again and stared at his twin. “What do you mean?” he demanded. “Do you think I can’t do anything on my own? Finglor was saying that I can’t say or think anything without you around. It’s not true!”
“I know that,” Elladan said placatingly “Of course you can do things without me. But you must admit, you’d never go and do something like that alone, would you? You just wouldn’t!”
“Stop trying to patronise me, Elladan! I’ve a good mind to do it, just to show you and Finglor I can! I don’t need you around me all the time!” Elrohir glared at his brother, angrier than he had been for a long time.
Elladan laughed at him. “Don’t be daft, El. That’s stupid. You know you don’t mean it. You’d be too frightened; you’d never do it.”
“I do mean it!” Elrohir shouted. “I will go, tonight! On my own! I’ll go and find these trolls that everyone’s so scared of, and see them for myself – and I don’t need you with me, either. I’m not your shadow!”
“Fine!” Elladan yelled back. “Go and get yourself killed by trolls, then! See if I care!” He stormed out of Elrohir’s room, back to his own, slamming the door furiously as he went.
Still infuriated, Elrohir picked up a shoe and flung it after Elladan. It struck the closed door with a dull thud. He glared at the door morosely. Until a year or so ago, he and Elladan had rarely argued. Just lately, however, their disagreements seemed to be more and more frequent.
He had heard others say that they were fortunate to be twins, to always have each other; a friend, a soul-mate. And he knew they were right. He loved Elladan, and always would; he had never doubted that. There were times, though, like this, when he almost felt he hated his brother as well. But he knew that was not really true, just as he did not believe for a second that Elladan had meant his final words. He did care – they both did. That was what made it so hard. He did not ever want to hurt Elladan. He did not want to push him away, either, but had begun to crave time to himself, the space to develop and grow independent.
It was irritating that everyone – including Elladan – still simply saw them as a pair. They were always called ‘Elladan and Elrohir’ or ‘the twins’. But he wasn’t just Elladan’s twin. He was more than that. He was Elrohir, an individual, a person in his own right; with his own thoughts and opinions, his own interests. He was not Elladan’s shadow, either. And this visit to the forbidden far side of the Bruinen would be made without him.
Elrohir spent the rest of the morning avoiding Elladan. He sat with other friends at lunch, and did not try to catch his brother’s eye. He saw his mother casting anxious looks their way, but these quarrels were not that unusual these days. It seemed strange, though, and he felt just a little lost. That, however, reminded him of Finglor’s comment about not even being able to think without Elladan, and his anger rekindled. He stabbed his knife savagely at the meat on his plate.
“Elrohir? Elrohir! Stop killing that, it’s dead already!”
Startled, he looked up to find that Legolas had joined him at the table. He had not seen his friend since his explosion at breakfast. He pushed the plate away. “Sorry. I was thinking about Finglor.”
Legolas shook his head in surprise. “Why did you let him bait you like that? You don’t usually lose your temper.”
Elrohir sighed, a little self-conscious that he had allowed Finglor’s comments to affect him so. “It was what he said about Elladan, that we never have any thoughts of our own, that we always do everything together. It’s not true!” He hesitated, aware that Legolas was waiting for him to say more. “And then Elladan seemed to agree with everything Finglor had said, that I’d never go after the trolls, not without him. That I’d be too scared. We ended up having an argument. And Elladan said he didn’t care if I got killed by the trolls.”
“Elrohir, you know he didn’t mean that!” Legolas protested.
“I know he didn’t mean it. But he said it.” Then he sighed. “And I said I didn’t want him around all the time,” he admitted.
Legolas shook his head slowly. “So you had an argument, and you both said things you know you don’t mean. Does it matter? You know you’ll be friends again by nightfall.”
Elrohir hesitated. “Well – maybe not,” he said slowly. At Legolas’s questioning look, he explained further. “I decided, I’m going up to the Trollshaws tonight. On my own. And if I’m going to be there before dark, I’ll have to leave this afternoon.”
“You decided what??”
“You heard me. And don’t say it, Legolas; I don’t want to know!”
Legolas told him anyway. “Elrohir, you must be mad!”
Back in his room, Elrohir considered his expedition. Putting the few things he thought he may need – a map, some apples, a wafer of lembas – into a small satchel, and filling a skin of water, he picked up his quiver and checked the arrows. He strapped a long knife to the holder as well, and thrust a small, sharp dagger into his boot. Finally ready, he straightened, wishing he felt as confident about this as he claimed. He turned to find both Elladan and Legolas watching him unhappily.
“El – you don’t need to go. Not really. I’m sorry for what I said – I didn’t mean it. I know you’re not scared to go without me.” Elladan swallowed. “Please stay – it’s too dangerous for you on your own.” He sounded miserable and worried.
Elrohir had been waiting for an apology from Elladan all day – anything; a word, a gesture, a look; something to take back the sting of his earlier words. But strangely, now that the apology had been made, it changed nothing. He had gone too far to back out now, too far to swallow his own pride. He put on his cloak, swung the satchel over his shoulder, picked up his bow and arrows and was finally ready. “I’m still going, El. I have to. Just – just to prove to you that I can. And to prove it to myself.”
Elladan was not convinced. “Well, let me come with you, then. Please.”
Elrohir was adamant. “No. Not this time. Anyway, I need your help here. First of all, promise me that you won’t tell mother or father where I am.” Swearing Elladan and Legolas to secrecy, he pleaded with them to cover his absence for the evening. “Tell them I’ve gone hunting,” he instructed. “It will be true, anyway. And I’ve done it before – it just wasn’t trolls I was hunting then!”
He reached the door, then turned back one last time. “Don’t worry, El. I’ll be careful.”
As he walked slowly – rather reluctantly – towards the Bruinen, and the borders of Imladris, Elrohir wondered just how he had been manoeuvred into this. Surely it had not been his idea to come out here alone? If it had just been Finglor’s mocking, he knew he could have ignored it easily. But when Elladan too had seemed to think his brother would not even consider an adventure like this without him, Elrohir found it intolerable. He knew he had reacted too hastily, his occasional impulsive streak overruling his natural caution, and also knew perfectly well that he was too stubborn to change his mind now. It was a relief, though, that he and Elladan had not parted on bad terms, and he felt a little happier. Legolas’s prediction that they would be friends again by nightfall had been correct.
He skirted the main paths, aiming for a part of the river well away from the ford. There was no way he could slip past the guards there, they were far too alert. Suddenly he stopped, listening intently. Someone was coming after him – Elladan, no doubt, hoping to persuade him to change his mind. Elrohir waited, ready for another confrontation, but to his surprise it was Legolas who appeared through the trees.
“Elladan and I have been talking,” Legolas announced in greeting. “I know you want to prove that you can do this without him, but can I come? We really don’t think you should go on your own – none of your father’s guards would, would they? And if anything did happen, think how Elladan would feel!”
Elrohir hesitated. If he was completely honest with himself, he did not want to go alone either. The purpose of this was to show he could do it without his twin – so there was no real reason why Legolas should not go, and he would certainly enjoy the company. He nodded. “All right. Come on, we go this way!”
Legolas smiled. “Wonderful! We’ll be going home in a few days, and – and I’d love to see real trolls! We’ve only got spiders in Lasgalen.”
Elrohir laughed, suddenly feeling more cheerful and optimistic about this expedition. It could be fun after all.
As they made their way to the river, Legolas questioned Elrohir on their route. “How are we going to cross? I know we can’t use the ford – the guards would stop us – but where else is there? I thought the Bruinen was under your father’s command – will we be able to cross?”
“Yes, of course! The river does obey my father – if enemies try to cross, it rises in a flood and sweeps them away. It’s apparently happened several times in the past, and once that I know about. A band of thieves from the Ettenmoors came south one very harsh winter and tried to raid Imladris.” Elrohir glanced at Legolas, who looked rather uncertain. “We’ll be quite safe. The river knows me, and if you are with me, you can cross safely as well.”
He led the way towards a high cliff lining the river bank. At the top they stopped, and Elrohir pointed downwards. A steep, narrow pathway led precipitously down to the water. The river was wide here, and consequently slow and shallow. On the far side a grassy bank was overhung with trees – the eaves of the Trollshaws. They scrambled down the path, using their hands for balance as well, and halted at the foot.
Suddenly Elrohir froze, flattening himself against the cliff, and pulling Legolas back as well. “A patrol!” he mouthed, pointing upwards to the top of the cliff. They waited soundlessly for an age until it was safe to move. “Come on, this way,” Elrohir said, a little breathlessly. He waded knee-deep into the water, and stopped halfway across, looking back at Legolas. “Don’t worry, it’s quite safe. Come on!”
Elrohir waited as Legolas waded cautiously into the water, smiling as he cast several anxious glances upstream as if waiting for the wrath of the Bruinen to fall on them for their trespass. “Come on! Or I shall leave you in mid-stream!” he threatened.
“What would happen then?” Legolas asked apprehensively.
“Nothing, probably. I expect you’d be safe enough. You’re not an enemy, after all! Now come on. I want to get there by sunset, not sunrise!” They gained the far bank without incident, then Elrohir paused. This was new, unfamiliar, forbidden territory. They were now outside the protection and sanctuary of his father’s lands, venturing into troll country.
They drew back into the shelter of the trees, out of sight of any more passing patrols, and Elrohir pulled the map out of the satchel. He spread it out in front of them both. “This is where we are,” he explained, indicating a point next to where the Bruinen was marked. “The trolls were seen here.” He traced his finger westward, to where an outcrop of hills were drawn. “It’s about five miles. We’d better hurry – it will be dark soon.”
They continued through the trees, climbing steeply away from the Bruinen before dropping down into a valley with a small, swiftly flowing stream at the bottom. On the far side, the land rose again, and the ground became stony and increasingly barren as outcrops of rock broke through the soil and grass. Finally they came to a rocky plateau, hollowed at the top like a giant cup. A small tarn nestled in the dip, and along the muddy edges they found footprints. Troll prints. A series of oval marks, seeming broken at one end, led across one side of the corrie towards a cleft where the land fell away to yet another valley. There were steep cliffs here, lined with caves, and dotted with stunted trees.
Elrohir stopped, gazing around and checking his map. “This is it,” he said. “This is where they were seen last night. We could hide there,” – he indicated the trees – “and keep watch.” They settled themselves into the branches of the trees, as in the west the setting sun painted the sky with a brilliant fiery red sunset.
They sat in silence for a while, enjoying the beauty of the sunset, relishing – and fearing – the solitude of the land around them. It was somewhere they were never meant to be, where no-one would ever think to look for them. Finally Legolas stirred. “Elrohir? Do you think the trolls will come tonight?” he asked softly.
Elrohir turned to look at his friend. It was dark now, but he could see Legolas clearly, silhouetted in starlight. “I don’t really know. I think so – I hope so. I don’t want to return tomorrow and have to admit we didn’t see anything!” Then he stiffened as a slight noise caught his attention. “What was that?”
As Legolas twisted sharply to see what had caused the bushes to rustle, Elrohir saw a rabbit scuttle out from cover. He relaxed, then grinned as a thought came to him. He gave a low growl, deep in his throat, and clutched at Legolas’s arm. “What was that?” he repeated.
Legolas tensed. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “Was it – was it one of the trolls?”
Elrohir growled again, but the action hurt his throat, and he could not help coughing. Legolas glared at him. “That wasn’t funny, Elrohir! Come here, I want to look at something. I think something scared that rabbit.”
They dropped to the ground, cautiously exploring the corrie again. There was nothing new to see, and the night was quiet once more. As Elrohir returned to the tree to watch again, he heard a low, deep growl. He glanced at Legolas. “There’s no need to do that – you don’t scare me!”
Even as Legolas looked up with a startled shake of his head, Elrohir realised two things. The growl had come from behind him, high above his head – and Legolas’s expression of shocked horror was not faked. He turned sharply, finding himself only inches away from a wall of rock that had not been there a moment ago. He looked up – and up – and up, craning his head right back until he could see the troll’s face, peering down at him curiously.
Elrohir’s voice went dry as he whispered, “Balrog’s balls! We found a troll.”Stories > First > Previous > Next