Mellon Chronicles

Black Breath

Chapter 1

by Cassia-(T) and Siobhan-(T)

"Black Breath" art by Cassia

"Black Breath" art by Cassia-(T)

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    Elrond walked slowly down the hallway in his house, a warm mug of tea in his hand.  He still hadn’t quite woken, it was fairly early in the morning yet and they had danced and celebrated in the Hall of Fire late into the night the evening prior.  He was slightly surprised to note that all of his sons were up and conversing quietly by the front door with Prince Legolas.
    “Morning father,” Elrohir called out cheerfully.
    Elrond raised an elegant eyebrow and assessed the youths.  “And what, pray tell, are the four of you doing up so early? I was certain I would not see a one of you until at least mid-morning.”
    “We’re going up to the river's head to...” Estel’s answer was interrupted by his older brother.
    “We are going to see how the river is faring and just to take a look around,”  Elladan finished the sentence off for the human.
    Aragorn’s mouth dropped slightly as he glared at his brother. 
    Elrond simply stood and stared all three of his boys down before speaking, “And what do you expect to do there?”
    “Hunt,” Elrohir answered innocently.
    The elf lord glanced at Legolas who had remained silent through the whole exchange.  The prince simply raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders in feigned ignorance, pretending not to know of the day's plans.
    “To hunt what?”  Elrond sighed deeply and turned back to his eldest, “Must I drag everything out of you?”
    “Why to hunt deer, of course, Father.  Celboril said that the cellars were getting low.”  Elladan’s expression was hard to read but Elrond had the distinct feeling that the youths were hiding something from him.
    He slowly resumed his walk to the main room, shaking his head. “Well mind yourselves. I have heard reports of orcs near the river’s head.  Do not go hunting them.”  He stopped and looked back at his sons. “Do I make myself clear?”
    “Well, unless they hunt us,” Estel murmured.  Elladan smacked the back of his head and glowered at the ranger.
    “Do I make myself clear? No orcs. I have had quite enough patching up of young elves and humans around here to last me well into the next millennium.  Stay away from them.” Elrond stepped back towards them, demanding an answer with his proximity.
    The human elbowed his older brother.  “Of course, Father, no orcs, we promise,”  Elladan answered for them.
    Elrond pierced his youngest son with the sternest look he could, but the human smiled back impishly. “Unless they attack us first.” And with that comment Aragorn stepped quickly out of the range of his brothers and darted out the front door, Legolas fast on his heels.
    “Elladan.” Their father’s voice was irritated; he knew how much trouble the four of them could get into.
    “Not to worry, Father. I promise you, no orcs, no trouble, no broken bones or bodies.”
    “Well, there’s no telling about that thick skull of Estel’s...” Elrohir muttered to himself.
    “No broken bodies!” Elladan repeated grabbing his twin and moving quickly for the door.
    Elrond watched them go and sighed deeply. “Iluvatar protect them all, they’ve not a wit about a one of them.” 


    “Have you no thought for your own preservation?” Elladan growled at Estel when he and Elrohir had finally caught up with the ranger.  The human ducked the open-handed smack intended for his head.
    “How can I, when you keep smacking it out of me. It’s a wonder there’s anything in there,” Estel threw the old torment back at his brother sarcastically.
    Legolas started laughing, “Estel, that’s not true!”
    The ranger rolled his eyes and cast the elf a doleful glance, “It’s what they keep saying.”
    “Would that I had had brothers.”  The elf prince laughed helplessly.
    “Oh, why? So they could torment you into insanity?  Here, you can have mine!”  Estel threw himself against Elladan rocking the elf off balance so that he stumbled towards Legolas.
    “Why you little nift!” The twin hollered at the human as he pelted up the dirt pathway ahead of the elves.  In moments they were all running after the ranger trying to gain the top of the pass first. 


    Mist from the falls coated everything in a fine sheen of water as the companions climbed the edge of the cliff, gaining the head of the river.  By the time they reached the top of the mountain it was mid-day and the spray from the falls was a welcome respite during the climb.
    They rested at the side of a deep pool that collected at the edge of the cliff before tumbling from the heights to crash into the hollowed-out bowl many feet below them, its dull roar a lulling rumble that hung in the warm, late summer air. There the four friends shared a meal of dried venison and bread that Celboril had packed for them that morning.
    The small lake they rested beside was visited by all sorts of animal life as they sat quietly and watched over the glassy waters. 
    “So what’s it like in Mirkwood these days?” Elrohir rolled over and glanced at Legolas, his eyes half-lidded, sleepy from the heat and a stomach full of food.
    Legolas’ gaze was unfocused as he allowed his eyes to fix on the gently rippling water and his answer was soft and wistful, “Well, if you mean is it anything like this?  Then the answer would be no, although it used to be.” He breathed in the high mountain air deeply, thinking on his home, “Mirkwood used to be beautiful, but the woods have fallen over the years into darkness.  The power of the elves keeps the evil at bay, yet it is not what it once was.”
    Aragorn lay on his stomach next to Legolas, listening to the prince talk about his home.  The young ranger’s face and arms overhung the rocky drop-off into the deep pool and he was completely motionless, perfectly still as he searched the depths of the water.
    “You’ll never catch anything, Estel.”  Elladan glanced over at the human.  His youngest brother held one of his arrows over his head waiting to plunge it into the water, trying his skill at spear fishing.  If the human heard him he didn’t respond, his breathing was slowed and his eyes were fixed.
    “It’s been a while since we were able to visit Mirkwood for any amount of time.  Why the last time we were there for your and Estel’s judgment was only the second time in oh what...?” Elrohir scrunched up his face and turned to his twin, “How long has it been Elladan?”
    Only Elladan was not in the space he had occupied moments before.  The elf was quietly sneaking up on his younger, human brother in an attempt to scare the ranger.
    Elrohir quickly took note and kicked Legolas’ booted foot, redirecting the prince’s gaze.
    Although he wasn’t watching what was going on behind him, Aragorn had been listening intently and when the conversation lulled he immediately redirected his attention.  Searching the water in front of him for the reflection of his brother, he waited.  In moments he was rewarded for his patience.  The glassy mirror of the water clearly showed Elladan stalking up behind him with a devilish smile on his face.  As the elf leaned over the supposedly unsuspecting ranger, Estel turned onto his back underneath his brother. Dropping the arrow he pulled his knees up to his chest and catching the elf on the soles of his boots he pushed upward and back, pitching Elladan into the lake over his head.  He twisted around and jumped back from the edge as the elf shot to the surface of the icy water, sputtering in surprise.
    Elrohir and Legolas were beside themselves with laughter and Aragorn slowly walked backwards to hide behind them, using them for a shield as Elladan hefted himself out of the pool.  The ranger grabbed Legolas when the prince stood, trying to get out from between the two of them.  The human ducked behind the prince’s back, holding onto the elf’s shoulders and using him as a barrier.
    “You will be sorry that father ever kept you when I am through with you,” Elladan growled, trying to circle around Legolas and get a clean shot at his brother.
    “Now wait a minute! None of this was my fault!” Legolas raised his hands to fend off the angry, wet elf as his friend turned him to the right and pulled them a few feet farther away from Elladan.
    “Elrohir, a little help here please!”  the ranger shouted to the twin.
    “Not on your life, little brother,” Elrohir backed away. “I have no death wish as you apparently seem to.”
    “Come on, Elladan,” Aragorn ducked and spun Legolas toward his brother again, keeping squarely behind the prince’s back. “Fair is fair, you were going to throw me in and don’t you dare deny it.”
    “I deny nothing, especially the fact that when I get my hands on you, you are dead.”  The Noldor elf grabbed the prince by his forearms and jerked him away from the cowering ranger.
    Legolas, finally free from the melee, quickly stumbled to Elrohir’s side. “Should we help?”  he asked as the ranger nimbly avoided the elf that was after him.
    “No way,”  Elrohir, laughed helplessly. “Let them have at it.”
    “Now Elladan, you know you can’t take me home beat up. You promised father.”  Aragorn jumped to his left vaulting over a fallen tree and using the downed pine as a barrier between himself and his brother. “Besides I am your little brother, you have to protect me.”
    “No, you are a ranger.”  Elladan feinted to the left, causing Aragorn to step to the right in an attempt to get away, but the ruse put the human closer to the elf and the warrior grabbed the man, hauling him bodily over the fallen tree and locking his arms around the human’s neck, dragging him back towards the lake. “And, as you are always so fond of telling me, you can easily take care of yourself,” he growled quietly in the ranger’s ear.
    Legolas and Elrohir watched wide-eyed as the elf picked the human off his feet and pulled him to the water's edge.  Aragorn reached out toward them begging, “Help!” His voice a mere squeak as his windpipe was constricted.
    Elladan glanced at the two who immediately stepped back, hands up in surrender.  Returning his attention to the ranger, he smiled wickedly at the man. “No help this time, little brother.”
    “I don’t feel right, just letting him throw Strider in there like that...” Legolas kept his eyes on the two as they struggled near the pool’s edge, each trying to over-balance the other. 
    “Shall we?”  Elrohir smiled devilishly at the prince.
    The elves were so involved in the roughhousing and so thoroughly enjoying themselves that they were not paying attention to their surroundings.  The warnings from their father that morning went unheeded and they did not hear when the forest fell silent around them.  The soft sounds of twigs snapping evaded notice, overridden by their laughter.
    Legolas and Elrohir rushed Elladan and had nearly reached the elf’s position when their advance was stopped, blocked by arrows that rained down around them. The shaft of one whistled by Legolas’ head, its fletchings brushing the top of his shoulder.  The prince dropped into a crouched position and whirled on his boot-heels, gazing intently into the forest behind them.  Elladan forced Aragorn to the ground beneath him, holding the human down protectively, stunned by the attack, their play fighting forgotten as he scanned the edges of the glade.
    Their weapons lay in the midst of the small camp they had made, a few yards from where they now were.  Risking the exposure, Legolas ran back towards the campsite and quickly collected the bows, slinging their quivers over his back as arrows bit into the dirt near his hands, throwing up small rocks and debris.  He turned to see the brothers running for the edge of the cliff, shouting at him to join them.   Aragorn’s eyes were huge and he stopped, momentarily glancing behind the prince as their attackers gave up the cover of the forest. 
    “Legolas!” He shouted the warning before Elladan grabbed him and drug him to the edge of the water at the top of the falls.
    Legolas spun, bringing up his bow and notching an arrow in one smooth motion.  The orc that stepped from the shadow of the trees was instantly felled.  But more took his place.
    In moments the glade was filled with orcs and they rushed the elves that were trapped on the edge of the falls. 
    “Here! Follow me!”  Aragorn shouted as he nimbly jumped out into the water, his foot making contact with a submerged rock.  The stone was slippery with moss and the current pulled at his leggings as he righted himself and leapt again.  From where the elves were at the edge of the water it appeared that the ranger was walking on the top of the lake, teetering on the lip of the falls, but as they neared the point he had jumped from, they too could see the natural bridge that the submerged stones made just inches under the water’s swirling surface.  Elladan pushed Elrohir in front of him, grabbing the prince and jerking him out of the way as a an arrow whizzed through the air where the elf’s head had just been.  The projectiles hit the surface of the lake, causing ripples in the water that made the rocks' positions harder to judge.
    Elladan retrieved his bow from Legolas and returned fire, covering their retreat.  The prince jumped to a stone midway across the lake and turned back, notching his bow with two arrows and releasing them with deadly aim.  He called for Elladan to follow them as he kept the orcs from attacking the elf.
    Elrohir was right on Estel’s heels, jumping from stone to stone behind the human.  The ranger was nimble and fleet-footed for a man but he still had a hard time keeping his feet under him; it was much easier for his elven companions.  Elrohir had intended to be close enough in the event that Estel slipped. One misplaced foot here and the unfortunate one who had stumbled would be over the side of the falls.  The elf reached out and righted his brother as the man tried to balance on a particularly slippery rock. 
    The orcs had gained the edge of the lake but they were loath to cross the water, renewing their attack with ferocity on the intruders.  The press of the onslaught reached Elrohir and Aragorn and the two were forced to duck as the orcs' arrows narrowly missed them, falling about them into the water. Aragorn turned to see how Elladan and Legolas were faring, but the misstep proved critical.  As he turned the human lost his footing and pitched forward, back toward the lake, trying desperately to right himself.
    “Estel!” Elrohir leaned out to grab the ranger just as the orcs loosed a volley of projectiles their way. One of the arrows found its mark and embedded itself deeply into Aragorn’s right shoulder.  The force of the weapon threw the human backwards. His feet slipped out from under him and, before he even knew what had happened, he fell over the falls.
    Elrohir froze, all of his senses stunned by the quick sequence of events that he was unable to stop.  He leaned out over the falls, barely hearing Legolas as he called for Aragorn.  The elf prince reached the rock that the twin stood on and wrapped his arm around Elrohir’s waist, pulling the elf back.
    “We must cross, quickly. We can search for him when we reach the other side and safety. Come!” He wrested the twin away from the edge and gave Elrohir a shove.  When the elf started moving again, Legolas swallowed the fear that was threatening to overwhelm him.  He had seen his friend fall, had watched from helplessly far away as the human’s face turned from pain to shock to fear and it seemed as though the ranger had fallen in slow motion off the rock where he now stood.
    Elladan leapt on to the submerged stone behind him and followed the prince’s gaze over the falls.  The water tumbled and frothed in angry billows at the bottom of the gorge. Mist from the furious pace of the falling water obscured their view and it was difficult to see if any one lay at the edges of the deep pool below them.
    “Go!” Elladan shouted at Legolas, following the elf to the other side of the lake.  Elrohir stood on the bank, waiting to catch them as they jumped the last span and together they ran into the safety of the covering trees. 
    They could hear the orcs on the opposite side of the lake but they were out of arrow range and the foul creatures would not follow them over. 
    Quickly Elrohir led them to the edge of the cliff and showed them the natural path down that he had found. The granite rocks of the cliff had been broken over the years by wind and water and they provided a steep-sided stairway that wound to the floor of the rift.  The mists made their descent precarious and more than once one of them slipped and nearly fell, but they made it successfully down the to the base of the falls without any trouble from the orc raiding party.
    Legolas could not help remembering the last time he had climbed down into this gorge in search of Aragorn not so very long ago.  The weather was much more agreeable this time, but his heart no less apprehensive and he hoped that he would once again find his friend alive and in one piece.  Yet his heart misgave him and fear for the young ranger’s safety made him feel cold even under the bright sunlight.
    At the bottom of the cliff they fanned out calling to Estel, searching the edges of the lake.  The ranger was nowhere to be seen and there were no tracks near at hand on either side of the river that indicated anyone had left it recently.  Elladan waded out into the middle of the pooling water, fighting the current.
    "What are you doing?" Elrohir called out to his twin.
    "I'm going to see if he is trapped underneath."
    "But if he is trapped..." Elrohir stopped talking, he couldn’t even speak the words.
    "I know that, Elrohir! You think I don’t?!" Elladan was standing in the water yelling at his brother, his fear turning to anger and causing him to lash out.
    "Elladan, please, go see if Strider is trapped.  I will help you if you find him."  Legolas moved to stand next to Elrohir, draping an arm around the upset elf’s shoulder.
    Elladan nodded curtly and dove under the water.
    "It was my fault." Elrohir’s words were soft and filled with self-loathing.
    Legolas turned to Elrohir and raised his eyebrow. "What was?"
    "Estel." The elf choked back a sob.  Tears were welling up in his eyes and Legolas had to look away to keep his own emotions at bay.
    "It was not," the prince replied, his voice rough as he lost the war with his own emotions.
    "Our fingers touched for just a second... but then he slipped away. I couldn’t hold onto him!"
    Elladan surfaced in the middle of the lake and quickly dove back in.  It was hard to see in the churning water and the undertow from the falls kept trying to drag him back against the rocks of the cliff.  He felt blindly along the bottom of the sandy floor, his fingers snagging on rocks and submerged logs.  His lungs felt about to burst when Elladan finally realized he needed to head to the surface, but the current pulled at him, grabbing his clothing and wrapping its invisible fingers in his heavy tunic, dragging him backwards.  He fought the pull of the water frantically, slowly gaining ground against it.
    When he broke through the water, Legolas and Elrohir had waded out into the lake and were calling out his name.
    "Elladan!"  Elrohir stumbled towards his brother and helped the elf stand to his feet, wading back out of the lake. "You were down so long."
    Elladan slipped down onto the bank and buried his head in his hands. "I couldn’t find him."
    "I'll try looking."  Legolas stripped quickly out of his tunic, dropping it to the ground near Elladan and waded into the water, diving in when it reached to his chest.  He systematically searched the floor of the lake, trying to get as close to the rock wall as possible with out being sucked in by the undertow.
    In a few moments he was joined by the twins and the three spent the next few hours searching the entire area.
    "He is not in there."  Legolas waded out of the lake last, joining the elven brothers on the beach.  "Perhaps he was washed downstream. Let us search the edges of the banks."  The prince was unable to give up or allow himself to think that his friend was dead.  They had not found his body, so there was still a chance.
    "Good idea."  Elrohir nodded his agreement, scooping up their sodden tunics and stuffing them into his knapsack.  "Elladan and I can take this side.  There is a narrow part in the river where you may cross to the other.  How is that?"
    "Very well, let us try it." Legolas nodded grimly, praying silently in his heart to Iluvatar that they would find his friend and soon.  He glanced back to the top of the falls and followed them slowly down with his eyes.  Shaking his head against the dark thoughts in his mind and the sorrow winding its way through his heart, he started out after the twins, hoping they would succeed before nightfall.
    The three elves moved slowly down the river following the stream back down the gorge, calling out Estel's name again and again.