Chapter Six – Questions And Answers
Glorfindel raised a disapproving eyebrow as he settled Elrohir against him more comfortably, head and shoulders resting on his lap. "Surely that was a little underhand?"
Elladan shrugged. "Well, if he will not take it willingly – you know he would do the same."
Glorfindel nodded. "Aye, and so would your father. I am glad I am no healer, just a simple warrior."
Elladan gave a snort of disbelief at the claim. Glorfindel was not a simple anything. Yet he made no further comment, too preoccupied to rise to Glorfindel's bait. Once sure that Elrohir was deep in a drugged sleep, he and Nindamos worked together to splint and bandage Elrohir's leg to immobilise it completely. The break was clean, and he was confident that it would heal completely. Despite Elrohir's deep sleep, his face twisted and he gave a low murmur of pain as his leg was moved, subsiding again as the splints were strapped into place.
Once that was done, Elladan spread a little of the arnica across Elrohir's back, rubbing it in gently and again working at soothing and reducing the swollen areas. The bruises were still mottled black and purple, but he could already see an improvement since that first night. At last he sat down at Elrohir's side, and took the cup Glorfindel handed to him. He took an incautious swig and gasped, coughing and choking as the fiery liquid burned all the way down his throat.
"Valar, Glorfindel!" he croaked. "You could have warned me!" He wiped his watering eyes and sipped the whisky again more cautiously.
"Really, elfling – you should treat your father's best whisky with more respect!" Glorfindel chided him.
Elladan sighed, but refrained from arguing. He was too relieved to know that help had arrived and that Elrohir would recover, and too tired to disagree.
"You need to rest as well, young one," Glorfindel ordered. "Have you slept at all since Elrohir called to you?
He thought back over the last few endless days. "A little – after I had got him back to the cave and seen to his injuries."
"While watching over him at the same time, if I know you," Glorfindel surmised. "You look exhausted. Rest now. Elrohir is sleeping, and you no longer need to keep watch."
Elladan nodded reluctantly. He knew Glorfindel was right – he could feel the exhaustion like a dark fog at the edge of his mind, clouding his thoughts. He knew that some of what he felt was an echo of Elrohir's pain and weariness, but not all of it. Moreover, he knew that Glorfindel was one of the few people he would trust with his life – or more importantly, with Elrohir's life. "Very well. I know you are right." He grinned. "You usually are."
Glorfindel smiled. "Never forget it, elfling."
Elladan stood and stretched, then picked his way across the cave to the entrance, skirting the fire and various discarded bags. Morel still stood placidly by the entrance, facing the fire, his tail twitching lazily. After checking his water, Elladan found a last withered apple in his pocket and fed it to him, patting his neck affectionately.
Standing on the ledge at the mouth of the cave, Elladan gazed out across the mountains. It was night now, but the near full moon reflecting off the pristine snow covered slopes made the scene as bright as day. He sighed. Now that Elrohir was safe and cared for, a new difficulty had presented itself.
How were they to get off the mountainside?
Glorfindel and Nindamos had obviously scrambled across the cliff face to reach the cave, but it would be difficult and dangerous – and all but impossible – to try to carry Elrohir across that way. And what about Morel?
Venturing further out onto the ledge, Elladan looked at the yawning gap where the track had fallen away, and the sheer drop below it. Had he and Morel really jumped across that? He must have been mad – or just desperate. Seeing it again with more rational eyes, he knew the gap was far wider than anything Morel could normally jump. The surface was uneven, slick with snow and ice, and the path far too narrow for a safe landing. One misstep, a tiny misjudgement, and he and Morel would have plunged to their deaths – and Elrohir too would have died, helpless and alone beneath a freezing blanket of snow.
He shivered, pushing the thought away, then inspected the chasm again. It was simply too far, too dangerous. Impossible.
He sighed. How were they to get off the mountainside?
Returning to the fire, he glanced at Elrohir, who still slept, then sat down with another deep sigh.
Glorfindel frowned at him. "Still awake? I thought you were going to rest?"
"I will. Later. Glorfindel – how are we going to get Elrohir out of here? It will be difficult – and uncomfortable for him – to carry him across the collapsed part of the path. And what about Morel? I will not leave him!"
Glorfindel tapped the side of his nose – a deplorable habit he had picked up from a Dwarf messenger who had once passed through Imladris – and smiled. "Never you mind, elfling. Never you mind. I have a plan. Now go to sleep, and let me take care of everything."
"Do you have to be so cryptic?" Elladan demanded sourly. Glorfindel merely smiled again. Elladan would have argued further, but he truly was tired, and knew that he could never out-manoeuvre Glorfindel at the best of times.
Tomorrow. He would confront Glorfindel tomorrow, and find out what this mysterious plan was. Yawning, he kicked off his boots and spread a bed roll across the floor, pillowing his head on his cloak. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, elfling. And do not worry about a thing – just leave it to me."
As he drifted into dreams, Elladan wondered what Glorfindel had in mind. He fell asleep planning and designing rope harnesses and slings which they could use to transport Elrohir. Or perhaps, he wondered hazily, the giant Eagles would help, as they had once before?
His dreams were filled with flights of Eagles swooping down with a net of ropes to hoist a terrified Morel up and away, soaring into the sky to carry him across the mountainside to safety.
He awoke to a rhythmic pounding, and groaned, clutching his head. There was a low chuckle, and he sat up to find Elrohir wide awake, laughing at him. He realised that the dull thudding was no headache, but seemed to come from somewhere outside. "What? What's happening?" he mumbled, shaking himself to wake up.
Elrohir grinned, seeming to bear no resentment for Elladan's treatment of him the previous night. "What is happening, my brother," he began, "is that Glorfindel has a plan. You are not drunk, nor hungover. Come and see! Nindamos, help me up please?" He extended one arm, and Nindamos pulled him upright.
Elladan gaped at him, still rather disorientated. "El?"
"Come and see!" Elrohir wedged a crutch under each arm and hobbled awkwardly across the floor, which had been cleared of the discarded packs and blankets. He moved slowly and stiffly, clearly still in some pain.
"Elrohir, be caref –" Elladan broke off as Elrohir turned to glare at him.
"Stop fussing, El! I can manage – can't I, Nindamos?"
Nindamos sighed. "If you say so."
At the entrance to the cave Elrohir paused, balancing on one crutch and pointing with the other. "Look!" He swayed slightly, and Elladan caught his arm.
"El, be careful!"
Elrohir ignored him, but did not shake off his supporting hand. "Look!" he repeated.
The reason for the hammering became clear. A team of elves who had obviously travelled with Glorfindel from Imladris were working on the ledge, hammering, sawing, and wedging metal pegs into the rock face.
"What – what are they doing?"
Elrohir sighed, shaking his head. "You seem unusually dense this morning, brother! Do you want to go back to bed and take a nap?"
Elladan gave him a sidelong glance. "Do you want me to break your other leg for you?" he enquired. Returning his attention to the work, he added, "Are they building a bridge?"
Glorfindel looked up from the far side, where he was directing the work. "Good morning, elflings! I told you I had a plan. When this is finished, Elrohir will be able to leave here easily – and so will Morel." He grinned smugly.
Elladan shook his head in wonder. "Glorfindel, you are amazing!"
"Never forget it, elfling!"
Elrohir was staring at the yawning chasm before them. "The track – it collapsed when Mornaur and I crossed it. I know it did." He glanced at Elladan. "How in the world did you get Morel across here in the first place?"
The shock was clear on Elrohir's face. "You jumped? Across that? El, you must be mad!"
"Possibly," Elladan admitted. "But I had little choice at the time. Please, El; come back and sit down before you fall down. I will tell you how I found you, and got you up here." He lowered his voice. "I know where Glorfindel hid the whisky, too."
Back in the cave, Elrohir balanced on the crutches while Elladan arranged the packs into a seat for him. He sat down with a sigh of relief, his leg stretched out before him and propped on Morel's saddle. Despite his protestations that he could manage, his back and leg ached, and his shoulder throbbed. He had needed to do something, though – just to prove to himself that he still could. The few steps had exhausted him – but he had done it.
"Do you need anything?" Elladan asked. "Do you want to rest?"
Elrohir shook his head. "No. It is more discomfort now, rather than true pain. And I seem to have spent most of the last few days either unconscious or asleep. I want to talk to you, El!
"Then talk to me. Tell me how you came to be here; what happened – you were supposed to be in Lasgalen!"
He thought back. His visit to Lasgalen seemed so very long ago now, yet it could only have been a matter of days. "I know. I had planned to stay longer – but Legolas was away, and Taniquel out on patrol. There was no reason to stay, so I came back." He sighed. "I should have taken the time to judge the weather. It is never so bad, so early – but I should have been sure!"
"Bad weather can take us all unawares. There is nothing we can do but try to take shelter," Elladan agreed. "So you made for the cave?"
"Aye. The path was treacherous, so we were going very slowly. I was on foot, with Mornaur behind me. There was no warning. The path began to collapse beneath me, and then suddenly there was nothing there at all, and we fell." He paused, remembering his sudden stark terror; the confusing, dizzying whirl of tumbling down the mountain; the jagged flash of pain; and the abrupt blackness that had descended. "We fell."
Elladan nodded. "I know. I knew – not that you had fallen, but that there was something terribly wrong. But not what, or where."
Elrohir sighed, shifting restlessly at the dark memories, and stretched his leg again to ease it.
"Do you want …"
"No!" he snapped. "Stop fussing, El!" He paused, drawing a deep breath. He made a bad patient, and he knew it. "Sorry." After a moment or two, he added, "Did you say something about Glorfindel's whisky?"
Silently, Elladan splashed some whisky into two small glasses. As he set the bottle down again, Elrohir caught at his hand. "Elladan. I know you were worried – are worried. But there is no need now. I will be fine. I know it, and so do you if you think about it. Do not fret, and do not dwell on what might have been. It did not happen."
Elladan glanced at him, his eyes hooded. "You nearly died, Elrohir. Do not expect me to forget that so easily." Then he smiled in a sudden change of mood. "But you are right, and I know you are recovering." He raised his glass. "May we soon be home!"
Elrohir raised his own glass in agreement. "Yes. Soon!"
As Elladan turned away to replace the whisky, Elrohir closed his eyes and reached out with his thoughts again. 'Elladan. Can you hear me now? El?' He concentrated as hard as he could, but felt he was getting nowhere – his thoughts remained trapped inside his head. 'Elladan. ELLADAN!'
He opened his eyes again at the touch of a hand on his shoulder. Elladan knelt at his side, his face full of concern. "El? Are you sure you are all right? You did not seem to hear me then – I was talking to you."
"I am sorry – I was just thinking. Now, tell me more. How did you know where to find me? Did you really hear me call you?"
Elladan nodded, his eyes wide with awe. "Yes – as clear as I hear you now. It was faint, but perfectly clear. I heard you." He grinned. "Glorfindel thought I had finally lost my mind through worry! In the end though, he agreed to go back and get more help. I came on alone – I knew there was no time to lose. But I tried to tell you that I had heard; that I was on my way – did you hear that?"
Elrohir shook his head. "No. And you cannot hear me now – I tried again, just then. He grinned. "Do you remember when we used to try, when we were children?"
Elladan gave a sudden smile. "When we tried to mindspeak? And Glorfindel's, and Erestor's, responses?"
Elrohir nodded. "It never worked, though. And it does not work now. So why did it then?"
"Perhaps … the need was never so great before. It had always been a matter of fun, nothing more."
"Whereas this time …" Elrohir frowned. "I thought I would die there. I hate to admit how close I was to utter despair. And I knew that even though you would search for me, I was too far from the track. I thought no-one would ever find me." He paused again, remembering the dark despair he had felt on realising the hopelessness of his situation. The deepest of his fears however, had not been for himself. "And I thought of you, if I died. That you would never know quite what had happened. And that was the worst moment of all. I could not bear it – so I tried to tell you, so you would at least know."
Elladan was silent for a moment. "And you did," he said at last. Elrohir knew he had left his innermost thoughts unsaid, but the words were not necessary. He knew them anyway.
They were both roused from their silent reverie by Glorfindel. "The scouts have returned from the pass," he announced. "The weather is clearing, and the snow will soon melt. We will be able to leave in a few days."
He had been declared well enough to travel by both Elladan and Nindamos, but there was one last task Elrohir had to do before he could leave. Mornaur's body still lay on the barren mountainside, exposed now that the blanketing snow had finally melted, and he could not bear to think of wolves and vultures scavenging on such a loyal steed.
Straw drenched in lamp oil had been piled around Mornaur, and now Elladan stood ready to fire a blazing arrow down to ignite the pyre. Elrohir wished he could perform the task himself, but he still lacked the strength to draw the powerful bow. Instead he touched a burning taper to the oil-soaked cloth wrapped around the head of the arrow, stepping back as it began to blaze.
Elladan loosed the arrow. Trailing smoke and fire it sank deep into the straw surrounding Mornaur, and the pyre burst into flames. Thick, acrid smoke billowed up into the still air and a wave of heat hit them.
Elrohir stood in silence with Elladan and Glorfindel until the flames began to die. Then at last Glorfindel stirred, placing one hand on Elrohir's shoulder. "Come, elfling. It is time to go."
Elrohir nodded. "I know." He gazed down the mountain one last time. "Farewell, Mornaur. You were a loyal friend." He turned to the quiet, gentle mare Glorfindel had brought for him; a strange contrast to the spirited Mornaur. Aided by Elladan and Glorfindel he mounted, settling into the saddle that Elladan had carefully adapted to enable him to ride while his leg was still splinted.
Then, without a backward glance, they rode across Glorfindel's new bridge and along the track to where Nindamos and the warriors waited. Behind them, smoke and flame still curled slowly into the clear sky.