Chapter One – The Messenger From Tarlong
Legolas rode wearily across the high moors towards Imladris. He had to concentrate on his route, for over the undulating ground, the steep path that led down to the hidden valley was very easy to miss. Although he had never admitted it to Elladan or Elrohir – though he was sure they knew anyway - there had been occasions when he had lost the path, and had had to retrace his steps, adding almost a day to his journey.
This time, however, he found the path at the first attempt, and nudged his horse down the track. It led steeply downward through trees, and far below he could glimpse the lights of Elrond's house, and hear the rush and murmur of the Bruinen. He gave a slight smile of relief. He had timed his arrival well. By arriving now, just before dusk, there would be a warm welcome, a refreshing bath, a meal in Elrond's hall, and a bed for the night. If he had left it much later, there would have been the same warm welcome, but things would have been much more rushed.
As he descended further into the valley, his horse splashed through one of the many streams that meandered down towards the Bruinen. He knew there were guards posted at the head of the valley and more along the trail; he could sense their presence, but he had presumably been recognised, as no one had challenged him yet. It was not until he crossed the bridge over the Bruinen that he finally saw a rider.
"Legolas! Welcome to Imladris."
Legolas peered at the speaker. It was one of the twins, but as always after a time away from Imladris, he was unsure which one it was. It always took him a day or two to get accustomed to them again.
He decided to take the safe option. "Ellahir! It is good to see you again. It must be – what, five years? How are you both? And your mother and father? And Arwen?"
"Arwen and my parents are both well, thank you. Arwen is in Lothlórien at the moment, with our mother's family. It is a pleasure to welcome you to Imladris again."
Ellahir did not sound particularly pleased. On the contrary, he seemed distracted, and more than a little preoccupied. His mind was clearly on other things.
"Ellahir? Were you expecting someone else? What is wrong?"
"Not Ellahir. Elladan. I am Elladan." Elladan sighed. "My apologies, Legolas. I did not mean to seem discourteous. But you were right. The messengers said a rider was approaching. I thought it might be Elrohir, or at least a message from him."
"Elrohir? Why? Where is he?"
Elladan sighed again, clearly worried. "He left a week ago, a simple errand, we thought, to take medicines to a town two days away. There is a fever there, and the mayor begged us for help. El was going to take the medicines, show those who could how to use it, then return. That was eight days ago. He should have been back at the latest two days ago, but we have heard nothing. Nothing."
"Perhaps the fever was more serious than you thought. Perhaps he had to stay to treat the people himself?"
"Yes. Perhaps." Elladan did not sound convinced. "And it is true we have received several similar requests in the last few days. This fever, whatever it is, seems to be more wide spread than we thought. But anyway, Legolas, welcome to Imladris. I will tell my father you have arrived, and I am sure we can find you a room somewhere!" He smiled, but Legolas noticed that the smile did not reach his eyes. He was still worried.
As they rode beneath the archway that led into the courtyard, Legolas continued: "Elladan, I have never really understood the bond between the two of you. But surely you would know if anything had - happened - to him? I remember when you fell out of that tree in Lasgalen, years ago. When you broke your arm. You were unconscious, but Elrohir could feel the pain."
"I remember. And it is things like that that make me feel I would know if anything was wrong. But I feel very uneasy about something. I just wish I knew what it was."
Elladan put his concerns to one side as he showed Legolas to his room. There was no need, as he tended to use the same room each time he visited Imladris. But Legolas welcomed the courtesy, and somehow, already, hot water had been drawn to fill the sunken stone bath.
As soon as Elladan had gone, Legolas stripped off his travel stained clothes, and lowered himself into the bath. He felt weary and grimy, and had not been able to wash since swimming in an icy mountain stream two days ago. He relaxed in the soporific warmth, wondering idly what had become of Elrohir. No doubt he would turn up, safe and well in the next day or so, wondering what all the fuss was about. No doubt the delay was due to something minor, like a lame horse, or poor weather turning the roads to mud.
But later, as he dressed and prepared to join Elrond, Celebrían and Elladan, he remembered a report that had been submitted on the day he left Lasgalen. There had not been time to read it properly, and he had just skimmed it. But the scouts had reported a sickness affecting many of the villages along the Celduin. He wondered if the incidents were related.
In Elrond's feast hall, Legolas began to list all the things which could have contributed to Elrohir's delay, ranging from the weather, to marauding wolves, and from assignations with pretty girls to fleeing their irate fathers. It worked. Elladan seemed to forget his worries, laughing and joking with Legolas as he always had. He told a complicated tale – at Elrohir's expense – involving two maidens, both of whom Elrohir had apparently asked to escort him at the last mid winter festival. They had not been best pleased when they found out about each other.
"But why, in all of Arda, did Elrohir ask them both? He usually manages his liaisons better than that!" Legolas protested. "He must be losing his touch!" He was well aware of Elrohir's reputation. He had always had a string of female admirers, and amazingly, always seemed to be able to keep on friendly terms with them all, long after a relationship was abandoned. What was more, he had done it all without ever once crossing the boundaries of what all three parents termed 'proper behaviour'.
Elladan grinned. "Well, in all honesty, it may not have been Elrohir who asked them. Not both of them, anyway."
"What do you mean, it may not have been Elr -" Legolas broke off with a gasp of laughter. "Elladan! How could you! You pretended to be Elrohir, and asked them yourself! You set him up!" Legolas tried to sound disapproving, but was laughing too hard to be convincing.
"Oh, you should have seen him, when he realised they were both expecting him to escort them to the feast. His face!" Elladan paused, savouring the moment anew. "For a moment, from the way they looked at one another, I thought there was going to be trouble, but then they decided that it was all his fault, and went off to the feast together, leaving El all on his own!"
"Poor Elrohir! So he had no escort for the evening? That must be most unusual for him!"
Elladan looked exasperated. "Oh, no, he managed to find someone! He asked a visitor from Lórien instead. Legolas, I swear I do not know how he does it! And then, the next morning, all four went out riding together, the very best of friends!"
Legolas gave another snort of laughter. "That sounds typical of Elrohir. Did he ever find out it was you?"
"Probably not. He just seemed to think he had lost track for once. I know he would have taken revenge if he had found out!"
"So, what is it worth not to tell Elrohir the truth when he gets back? Elladan?"
But Elladan's attention was elsewhere, focused on a newcomer who had just arrived. It was a man, windswept and dishevelled, who had clearly only just ridden in. Escorted by a guard, he made his way around the edge of the hall to Elrond.
"Elladan? Who is that?"
Without taking his eyes from the man, Elladan replied absently. "The messenger who came from Tarlong. The one who requested our help in the first place. He may have a message from Elrohir. Will you excuse me?" Without waiting for Legolas' reply, he moved along the table to where Elrond had just taken a letter from the messenger.
The man sounded most indignant. "Lord Elrond, I have to tell you that the mayor was greatly saddened that you ignored our request. Angered, too, as in the past we have done our part in aiding you by collecting some of the herbs and plants you say you need. So I have come again, to beg you to reconsider. My Lord, we need your help. Some have already died from this fever – it will be more by now. Will you please aid us?"
"Arahad, what do you mean?" Elrond asked sharply. "I sent the medicines you requested the day after you left, as I promised you we would do. We did not ignore your plea!"
"No? Well, no one came to our aid. No one! And my people are still dying!" The man's fear and worry made him short tempered.
Elladan leaned closer to Arahad. "You have my word that we did send help. My brother left a week ago, with one of our apprentice healers. If they have not arrived …" He left the thought unfinished, but his abstract worry suddenly crystallised into a very real anxiety.
"We should not discuss this here. Come to my study," Elrond told the man. He, Elladan and Celebrían left the hall with Arahad. Legolas, unashamedly eavesdropping, had overheard most of the conversation, and followed them.
They gathered around a large map that Elrond spread out on the table. Tarlong was a small town on the banks of the Mitheithel, about two hundred miles south of Imladris. Elrond traced a route with one finger.
"Elrohir would have taken this road. Did you see any sign of travellers on the way? What about the villages you passed through?"
Arahad thought back along his journey. "I saw nothing. I travelled around the villages – this fever has made folk nervous of strangers."
"It could be that the illness is more serious that we first thought. We have had several requests for help already."
"It seems to be wide-spread, as well," Legolas added. "Our scouts reported the same thing near Lasgalen, among the river villages."
"Could that be it, then?" asked Arahad. "They stopped off to help one of the other villages or towns first?"
The suggestion was certainly plausible, but Celebrían shook her head. "No. Elrohir would have honoured the commitment to your town first, even if he and Bereth had to split up to be able to help others. And even if that had caused the delay, he would have sent a message."
"Then what could have happened?" Elladan pondered.
"Speculation is pointless! We will find out nothing like this." Worry made Elrond unusually ill tempered.
"Then it is time to do something! I will go and look for him. For both of them. I can leave tonight. Legolas, do you wish to accompany me?"
Before Legolas could nod his agreement, Elrond stopped them both. "No, not tonight. It will take time to prepare what you need. And I will give you more supplies, medicines – I think you will need them. Go and rest now, both of you. You can leave in the morning. And thank you, Legolas, for agreeing."
"Surely you did not think I would refuse? Elladan will need looking after, I am certain of it!"
After saying goodnight to Celebrían and Elrond, Legolas returned to his room, but found it difficult to sleep. Instead, he pulled cushions from the bed and sat on the floor of the stone balcony, gazing up at the stars, and listening to the murmur of the trees. The starlight and the soft voices of the trees helped him to think. What was this fever? How serious was it, how far spread? Periodic sicknesses had always afflicted the lakeside communities, but he had the uneasy feeling that this was something more than that.
And most importantly, what had happened to Elrohir? While he had a reputation for enjoying life, he always took his duties seriously, and was very conscientious. So if he had not reached Tarlong on Elrond's mission, where on Middle Earth was he?
To be continued ….