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Elflings – Second Sight
‘Nana?’ Elrin balanced easily on the rail by the stream, aware than his naneth’s hand was hovering close by him, and that she was wanting to snatch him to safety, but that she was letting him walk along it anyway.
‘Yes, my son?’ she asked calmly.
Elrin turned to look at her. ‘Why do I never see my cousin Eldarion? Does he live a long way away?’
Miriwen’s breath caught in her throat. How could she explain mortality to one so young in a way that he could possible understand?
‘I am afraid so, Elrin,’ she said. ‘Across the Sundering Seas to Middle Earth – a journey that very few can travel. When you are a little older, your ada will tell you many stories that will help you understand. The family of Elrond Peredhil is very special.’
‘Eldarion would be too old to play with me, would he not, Nana?’
‘I am afraid so, sweeting. You have elflings to play with here – Galenthil is a good playmate, is he not?’
‘He is a bit small.’
Miriwen smiled. A few short years mattered so much when you were an elfling, only to become so irrelevant once you were past your first century. Elladan was some two thousand years older than she was, but it made no difference at all. If anything, she felt considerably more mature and found his youthful exuberance one of his many engaging qualities. ‘He will grow, Elrin. And it is fun showing him how to do things, is it not?’
‘But Eleniel always comes with him, Nana, and she is an elleth.’ The ellon made the word sound like an insult.
Unable to conceal her smile, Miriwen looked away from the serious little face. ‘She cannot help it, my son, and it does not mean that she cannot join in with your games. After all, I can be quite fun to play with and I am an elleth, too.’
‘You are not an elleth, you are my nana,’ Elrin stated firmly with the twisted logic of the young.
‘Would you and Galenthil like to have a trip just for ellyn, with your adars and uncle?’ Miriwen asked him, smiling at his excited reaction. ‘What would you like to do?’
‘Can we go into the woods with our swords and bows and fight the orcs and spiders?’ Elrin’s eyes sparkled. ‘And have fires and picnics and sleep under the stars.’
Miriwen winced, but kept her voice light. ‘Well, we might have a problem with the creatures of the Dark, my sweet, but I am sure Ada will be able to arrange the fires and camping. He might even take his sword and his bow, although I cannot promise.’
‘Can we go and ask him?’ Elrin launched himself into his naneth’s arms, hugging her. ‘Now?’
They crossed the bridge and the elfling pulled Miriwen across the wide lawns sweeping down from the extensive house the family shared, diverting to join the figures sat under the spreading beech.
‘Nana says Ada can take me camping,’ Elrin announced to his daernaneth, ignoring his baby cousins as they slept on their blanket.
‘Lucky Ada,’ Celebrian smiled, opening her arms to welcome him in a swift hug. ‘Does he yet know the delight he has in store?’ The ellon shook his head. ‘You stay here and tell me about it, my daerion, while your naneth goes to fetch Ada and the others to come and enjoy a breath of air with us. I look forward to seeing his pleasure when you tell him of his treat.’
Elrin peered at the babies. ‘Was I like that?’ he asked.
‘Well, you were a little bigger,’ his daernaneth told him, ‘because there was only one of you. You looked very like your adar did when he was a baby, but you were generally rather better behaved. As I recall, your adar and uncle slept very little when they were babies.’
‘Sleeping is a rather boring thing to do,’ Elrin pointed out disapprovingly.
‘But naneths appreciate it a lot,’ Celebrian smiled.
One of the twins made a little mewling noise and followed it up with a sneeze. Celebrian leaned over to check her, but she returned to sleep with a little wave of her hand.
‘Can I climb the tree, Daernaneth?’ Elrin said.
‘Wait for Ada, sweet one. I expect he would like to climb, too.’
Elrin sat next to his daernaneth and leaned his head into her shoulder. ‘Can you tell me a story?’ he asked.
‘Shall I tell you a story of your adar and uncle when they were little ellyn?’ Celebrian asked.
‘Tell me about when they got in trouble, Daernaneth,’ Elrin asked enthusiastically.
Celebrian laughed. ‘They will not appreciate it too much – but I can think of the perfect tale, my sweet.’ She looked down at the dark head and smiled. ‘One day,’ she continued, ‘Elladan and Elrohir were bored. They had been good ellyn for several days after their last adventure, for their adar had been very cross with them, but now they were so bored that they knew they had to think of something to amuse themselves. They were sitting in a lesson from Erestor, who had agreed to help them with their studies. Now, Erestor knows a lot, but he expects his students to want to learn from him – which means that he was really not an ideal teacher for the twins, because they did not want to learn at all.’ She grinned mischievously at the sight of her sons approaching.
Elrohir looked quite indignant at her assertion. ‘Naneth!’ he exclaimed.
‘You are leading my son astray,’ Elladan complained. ‘You should tell him that I was a good hard-working ellon who always did as my parents and teachers told me.’
‘But it would not be true,’ his naneth pointed out. ‘You frequently had all those around you tearing their hair out because they could never predict quite what you would both think of next. And this,’ she beamed at Elrin, ‘was one of those times.’
‘So which tale are you telling now?’ Elrohir asked with resignation, stretching out on the grass beside his daughters and admiring the sleeping faces crowned with tufted blond hair.
Celebrian’s eyes twinkled. ‘Erestor had been telling the twins stories about ships and the sea,’ she continued. ‘And they decided that they wanted to follow in the footsteps of their seafaring kin – so they decided to build themselves a raft and take it down the river. It took them about a week to make it. We should have known they were up to something,’ she confided in Elrin’s ear, ‘they were being much too good. Then, one afternoon, they raided the kitchens for as much food as they could cram into their packs and set off on an adventure.’
Elladan grinned as he lay back and looked up at the canopy of leaves. ‘I remember that,’ he said. ‘It was a hot afternoon, my son, and so still. The sky was glassy and the air was heavy – it seemed a perfect day for playing on the water. We pushed the raft out onto the river and climbed aboard. We had provided ourselves with rough paddles, but we really meant to pole it along. It didn’t work very well – we really were not very good at raft-building.’
‘It was not a very big river,’ Elrohir added. ‘And, except in the spring floods, it was only a foot or so deep. We should have been perfectly safe, even if the raft had fallen apart, but -.’
‘In the hills, quite a way upstream, rain began to fall – not gentle rain, but torrents of it. The sky split with lightning – it fractured into a hundred paths – and the thunder that followed menaced like a warg growling, but we paid little attention,’ Elladan told his son. ‘The hills seemed far away, and where we were, the sun shone and we had almost got the hang of moving in a straight line.’
‘The water began to rise. Not much, just a little – and quite slowly. We did not notice what was happening.’
‘And then, the first wave came.’ Elladan sat up. ‘It is just as well the flood arrived in four or five fairly small waves,’ he remarked. ‘The raft would never have held together if the water had all come down at once.’
‘I know, my son,’ Celebrian said, keeping her voice neutral.
Her sons glanced quickly at her. ‘Anyway, the raft was swept downstream. We managed to hold on and eventually we were swept in towards the bank and we caught hold of some willow branches and pulled ourselves into the tree.’
‘Unfortunately,’ Elrohir chimed in, ‘we were on the wrong side of the river and the flood meant we could not get across.’
‘And,’ said Elladan, ‘we were much further downstream than we were ever permitted to play, which meant that no-one knew where to look for us.’
‘And it was getting dark.’
Elrin shivered and snuggled up to his daernaneth. ‘How did you get rescued?’ he asked. ‘Were you scared?’
‘When they did not return in time for dinner, we sent out search parties,’ Celebrian said, adding dryly, ‘They were well accustomed to looking for the twins. But all trace of their raft-building activities had been swept away by the flood.’
‘Fortunately, Glorfindel was leading a patrol back that way,’ Elladan told him. ‘We saw his horse – you know how he always likes to ride a grey – and called him. We rode back into Imladris with the patrol, feeling very pleased with ourselves.’
Elrohir grinned. ‘But our Ada and Nana were not nearly so pleased. Even though our adventure was an accident, it was some time before we were permitted out of the sight of a responsible adult.’
‘So the moral of the story, my son, is: always obey your parents,’ Elladan concluded triumphantly, winking at his naneth, who shook her head and sighed.
‘I am sure that these little ones will be rather less trouble than we were,’ Elrohir said besottedly, touching the tiny hand of one of his daughters and smiling as her fingers curled around his thumb.
To her great credit, Celebrian managed to suppress her laughter and buried her face in her grandson’s hair.
‘Has Elrin asked you?’ Miriwen called, as she and Sirithiel joined them with pitchers of wine and juice and some plates of small cakes.
‘Asked me what?’ Elladan returned. ‘Naneth has been too busy telling him stories for him to have had any chance to ask questions.’
‘Nana says you can take me camping,’ Elrin informed him. ‘She said we could take Galenthil and Legolas and spend the night sleeping under the stars – and that you would take your sword and your bow.’
Miriwen raised an eyebrow at him.
Her son ducked his head and grinned. ‘You might take them,’ he amended. ‘Would you?’ His eyes gazed hopefully into his adar’s.
‘Galenthil’s Nana might think that he is a bit small yet,’ he judged, ‘but I do not see why we should not have some time away from all the ellyth. It will do us good.’
‘Shh,’ his naneth said quickly as he jumped up and down with delight. ‘Do not wake Nimloth and Aewlin. Let them sleep as long as they will – they will be demanding attention soon enough.’
Galenthil sat on the stairs with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his cupped hands and a decided pout. It was most definitely not fair. He had been waiting for years to be old enough to join Elrin and his adar and uncle on the trips they made into the woods, and now, with one remark, it looked as if it was going to be ruined.
And all Eleniel had done was tilt her head and smile up at Ada through her eyelashes. Well, he hoped there would be spiders. In fact, if his sister insisted on coming, he would make sure that there would be spiders.
His daeradar sat beside him on the step. ‘You cannot fight ellyth, my grandson,’ he said sympathetically. ‘Try as you might. Your naneth has decided that Eleniel should go with you, and go she will.’
‘She will be the only elleth, Daerada,’ Galenthil objected. ‘She will want to do silly things and she will complain if she gets muddy.’
Thranduil grinned over the young one’s head. ‘Perhaps you and Ada could make some rules,’ he said when he could control his voice. ‘No complaining could be on the list – although,’ he warned, ‘it would apply to everyone equally. Can you think of a rule?’
‘No ellyth,’ Galenthil suggested.
‘I think you have already been overruled on that one,’ his daeradar observed.
‘No hair brushing,’ the ellon said hopefully.
‘I do not believe that rule will pass with your adar either,’ Thranduil said solemnly. ‘He really does not care for having tangles in his hair – at least, he has not since he was your age.’
Galenthil rested his head on his daeradar’s arm. ‘I wish you were coming,’ he said wistfully.
Slipping an arm round the slender figure, Thranduil smiled broadly. ‘I am sure that your adar and uncles will have more fun without me,’ he said, picturing the quickly controlled expressions of horror that would cross their faces should he suggest joining them. ‘But I will ask your naneth if you can come out to the woods with me soon – just you, on your own,’ he offered.
‘Are you two plotting against me?’ Legolas peered at them through the banisters, enjoying the sight of the small fair elfling with his hand resting on Thranduil’s knee. ‘I know you would prefer just to spend time with Elrin, my son,’ he said, coming round and squeezing next to Galenthil on the steps. ‘But Eleniel would feel left out then.’
‘I confess that I am glad that I was not the adar of twins,’ Thranduil told him. ‘It seems to involve constant juggling – and one or other of them is always upset.’
‘And Elrohir says it will get far worse before it improves,’ his son commented ruefully. ‘And yet separating them makes it even worse. Lady Celebrían said that she often felt like sending them to spend a few years with her naneth.’
‘She was exaggerating,’ his adar said.
‘Come, Adar – this is Elladan and Elrohir about whom we are talking,’ Legolas pointed out.
Galenthil twisted and placed his head on Thranduil’s lap so that he could gaze up at his adar. ‘Do you not like having Eleniel and me?’ he asked doubtfully.
‘You two and your nana are the best things that have ever happened to me,’ Legolas said promptly. ‘I cannot imagine what I would do without you all. But,’ he prodded his son with a tickling finger, ‘that does not mean that I enjoy it when you squabble.’
‘Stop, Ada!’ Galenthil giggled, drawing his knees up and batting at his adar’s hands. ‘All right – Eleniel can come, but Daerada says she is not to complain.’
Legolas lifted an enquiring eyebrow at his adar.
‘And Galenthil says there should be no brushing of hair while you are away,’ Thranduil added brazenly. ‘He feels you will be closer to the forest if you abandon such needless rituals.’
Legolas inhaled and relished the scent of leaf litter and green leaves. Despite its closeness to the city, the wood was old and filled with the song of trees.
‘You look like a Rohir who has just found his way into the brewery after a long season in the field,’ Elrohir told him unkindly. ‘You will be getting drunk on the fumes next.’
‘Is it possible to get drunk on fumes?’ Elladan asked curiously.
‘Only for Wood Elves,’ his twin teased.
‘It is good to be outside,’ Legolas said amiably, ‘is it not, Elrin? Even though we had to bring your ada along with us.’
Elrin looked somewhat doubtfully at the elleth sitting in front of his uncle. Eleniel was wearing some clothes borrowed from her twin and her hair was pulled back into a single braid. She remained quiet, gazing around her with interest. Elrin sighed. He had always enjoyed these over-night camping trips, but he was not at all sure that he wanted either Galenthil or Eleniel to join them. The attention of his adar and uncles was bound to be concentrated on the young twins and he was going to be left out, or worse, expected to spend all his time looking after them.
His adar’s arm tightened round him. ‘Never mind,’ he murmured with understanding. ‘We will sneak off again soon, shall we? Just us? I am sure Nana will be glad to see the back of us for a few days.’
A hopeful grin brightened Elrin’s face. ‘I would like that,’ he said.
Galenthil’s giggle made them turn their heads to see Elrohir swinging down from his horse, leaving the elfling perched on the saddle. ‘Look at me, Ada,’ he called proudly. ‘I am riding on my own.’
Legolas lifted an eyebrow. ‘I see you,’ he said. ‘If you break him, Elrohir, I will not attempt to protect you from his Nana’s wrath.’
‘We are here,’ his friend told him, leading the horse into the grove of old trees. ‘The horses will wander on the meadow behind us and we can set up camp here.’
‘Nice spot,’ Legolas approved. ‘Why have we not been here before?’
‘It is too close to home, of course,’ Elladan told him. ‘There are no wild animals – well, none larger than a squirrel; the only water in the immediate area is a small spring, so the elflings cannot drown; the trees provide shelter and a comfortable place to sleep – and, should anything go wrong, we can have them home in minutes.’
‘Who is going to be on elfling duty while we set up camp?’ Elrohir asked.
‘Do we need anyone to watch them?’ his brother asked in surprise. ‘There is nowhere they can go, surely.’
Legolas laughed. ‘We might be able to trust Elrin to stay close, but I do not believe Elerrina would be very happy if she thought that the twins were not being supervised.’
‘We will permit Elrohir to stand guard duty,’ Elladan grinned. ‘It will serve to get him in training for dealing with his own little ones.’
His twin sniffed. ‘Come,’ he invited. ‘We will go and seek dry wood for the fire and leave these know-it-alls to prepare for us.’ He grinned wickedly. ‘We would like to have a meal prepared for us on our return,’ he demanded. ‘Five courses.’
‘Go with Elrohir,’ Legolas told his twins. ‘Help him as much as you can.’ He smiled blandly. ‘Make sure you remain in his sight.’
‘Can Elrin come?’ Eleniel asked shyly, casting an admiring glance at the older elfling.
‘Not just now,’ Elladan beamed at her. ‘He is going to help me light the fire. You go and fetch more wood for him and then we can decide what to do with what remains of the day.’
As Eleniel responded with a small smile and followed Elrohir into the woods, Legolas grinned at the older elfling. ‘I think my daughter likes you,’ he said.
‘Please,’ Elladan sounded pained. ‘I am not ready for the role of adar-in-law yet.’
Elrin flushed. ‘She is just a baby, Adar,’ he replied in an offended tone.
‘Of course she is,’ Legolas agreed seriously. ‘I am glad she is inclined to be friends with you – although I am not sure Galenthil will agree. They will be competing with each other for your attention, I am afraid, Elrin. I hope they do not spoil the trip for you.’
‘That is all right.’ The elfling was mollified. ‘I do not mind helping to look after them.’
Between the excitement of the journey and the exercise of scuttling back and forth with many small armloads of wood, the twins were half-asleep before they had eaten the simple meal provided for them. They curled up on either side of their adar as he cuddled them close, crooning a soft song of lengthening shadows and gentle ease.
‘They have been less trouble than I thought they might be,’ Elladan said in a quiet murmur.
Legolas did not interrupt his song, but cast a look his way and shook his head.
‘Give it time,’ Elrohir tilted his head so that he could see the first stars gleaming faint in the steel-grey sky of evening. ‘They are probably lulling us into a sense of security first.’
A beam from the rising sun slid between the leaves to shine insistently on Galenthil’s face. He batted at it, but it refused to go away and as he began to rouse he wondered how his bed had become so bumpy and why his room felt wrong. He opened his eyes abruptly as the answer came to him and he sat up, pushing the blanket away. Everyone was sleeping, he thought; then realised that his adar was nowhere to be seen. Elladan sprawled beside the ashes of the fire, while Elrohir rested neatly, his eyes half-closed in elven sleep. Eleniel burrowed into her blanket, sighing in peaceful dreams, and Elrin’s tangle of dark hair hid his face.
Galenthil looked round. There was still no sign of his adar, but, he decided, it did not matter. His need to relieve himself was urgent enough to mean that he had to visit the spot that had been designated for the purpose. After all, he reasoned to himself, Ada had surely not meant that he had to control that need until someone was able to leave the camp with him. Probably, he decided, he would find Ada there already and he would be impressed to find that his son was grown-up enough to deal with such matters without help.
It must be very early, Galenthil thought, for the Elrondionnath to be quite so deeply asleep, but, if he was careful, he should be able to get away without disturbing them. After all, he smiled, Ada said that no-one could keep track of Wood Elves among the trees – not unless they wanted to be found. He eased himself to his feet, a bright shadow in the small glade, and practised the skills his adar had shown him among the trees of his home, slipping quietly from the safety of the bank where Legolas had left him asleep and disappearing into the wood. Eleniel shifted slightly and frowned, but the quiet of the camp soothed her and she returned to a peaceful sleep.
Galenthil looked round him with concern. He knew that he had come in the right direction, but the woods did not look the same as they had the night before. The shadows had moved and the bright slashes of light seemed to be laughing at him. He had come further than he should have done, he was sure. Perhaps, he thought as he turned round a couple of times, perhaps, that tree was familiar. He altered direction and made a bee-line for it, only to stop in confusion as a small stream wound its way between him and his destination. Not there, then. He looked around again, blinking back the tears that threatened to overcome him. He should go back. He should, but he was no longer sure which way was back. The trees were friendly, but they were strange and he could not really understand what they told him. He chose a direction at random and started to run. He wanted his Ada. If he ran fast enough, far enough, quickly enough, perhaps he would find his Ada.
The low branches and undergrowth caught at his tunic as he pushed forward, no longer thinking about direction, but just wanting to get somewhere. He pulled himself free from the brambles, sobbing quietly as they tugged at his soft golden hair and staggered on, too breathless to call for help. His foot caught on a break in the ground and he tripped, tumbling into a narrow opening and falling, by mischance, into a narrow cleft beneath the root system of an ancient oak, rolling with the cascade of small stones. His head struck a protruding rock and he fell, as limp as a leaf dropping to the forest floor, to land unconscious in the dark hole.
Legolas was humming contentedly as he re-entered the camp with the cleaned fish he had caught for breakfast. The pure beauty of the morning had filled him with joy as he had watched through the last part of the night and the sleeping elflings had seemed to be safe enough to enable him to go and bathe – and, once at the stream, the quantity of large trout investigating his toes had proved too tempting.
He grinned as he glanced through the trees. The delight of greeting the dawn did not seem to have been enough to drag Elladan or Elrohir from their blankets. He felt a momentary regret that he had not thought to bring back with him some cold water so that he could treat his friends to an unexpected shower. He sighed as he glimpsed Elrin between his adar and uncle – he supposed they were too old for that kind of behaviour now they were responsible for the manners and morals of the elflings entrusted to their care.
He turned to look at his own pair. Eleniel’s fair braid was coming untwisted and she looked restless, he thought. She was frowning and moving as if she were in pain. Bad dreams, he thought wryly, even here in the Blessed Realm. Turning to the blanket beside her, Legolas froze in instant horror. Galenthil was missing! Even as he spun to examine the camp more carefully in case a small figure was hiding in a giggling attempt to scare his adar, he found himself reciting the reasons he did not need to be alarmed. No orcs, he listed, no spiders, no wargs, no Ringwraiths, no Dark Lord. No need to panic. Even as he tried to reassure himself, another part of his mind began to list the dangers present even in this safe world. Dropping the breakfast catch, he stirred Elladan with one foot.
‘Wake up,’ he said sharply. ‘How long has Galenthil been gone?’
‘Galenthil?’ his friend asked in confusion.
‘Do not tell me you failed to notice him leave,’ Legolas snapped. ‘He is only an elfling – he should not be able to sneak away from two trained warriors!’
‘The watch was yours,’ Elrohir said softly, placing his hand on Legolas’s arm.
Legolas caught his breath as he held his friend’s eyes. ‘True,’ he said, spreading his hands, ‘but the fact that the blame is mine does not make it any less urgent to find him before he comes to any harm.’
‘He has probably gone to relieve himself,’ Elrin said, yawning. ‘He is very small – I expect he could not wait.’
‘True.’ Legolas stood up and moved swiftly towards the edge of the clearing. ‘I will seek him.’
‘Can I come?’ Elrin asked. ‘I need to go, too.’
Legolas paused and turned. ‘Quick,’ he said, holding himself back as the elfling pulled on his boots and jogged over.
When they returned to the now-busy campsite, his face was grim. ‘He has not been there,’ he said. ‘We need to start a search.’
‘He was headed in that direction,’ Elrohir said, ‘when he left the glade. I have checked. I suspect he lost track of where he was going. If we spread out it should not be that difficult to find him – we have no need to seek him in secrecy.’
Legolas nodded, looking intently at Eleniel as she sat cross-legged and solemn on her blanket. ‘I am not leaving her behind,’ he stated.
‘The elflings will hinder us,’ Elladan said seriously, ‘and slow us down. They will be safe here.’
‘As safe as Galenthil?’ Legolas’s voice was sharp.
‘Galenthil is not here, is he?’ Elladan turned to his son. ‘Remain here, Elrin – and stay with Eleniel. Have some waybread and fruit – we will be back as soon as we have found Galenthil.’
Eleniel slipped her small thumb in her mouth and looked anxiously at her adar.
Legolas went down on one knee next to her. ‘Elrin will look after you,’ he said gently. ‘We will be back before you have time to eat, I expect.’ He took her face in his hand and stroked her cheek. ‘Be good.’
She nodded silently and blinked back the tears in her eyes.
The three elves spread out and began to seek Galenthil’s passage through the trees, leaving a hollow silence behind them in their camp.
Elrin looked at the elleth. ‘Well,’ he said with forced cheerfulness. ‘Ada says we should eat something. I am not usually allowed to poke around in the supplies,’ he added. ‘I think they expect me to eat them all in one go.’ He brought a leaf of waybread out and broke it in two, giving half to Eleniel. ‘Eat it,’ he commanded. ‘Then you can have an apple.’
Removing her thumb, the elleth obediently picked at the food, choking down enough to satisfy her mentor.
‘Good,’ he approved, handing her a cup of water. ‘Now have a drink.’
‘Do not cry,’ he demanded. ‘Ada and Elrohir and Legolas will find Galenthil soon.’
‘It is all dark and his arm hurts,’ she said shakily. ‘And his head is dizzy. He is scared and he cannot move.’
Elrin looked at her sternly. ‘You must not make up stories, Eleniel,’ he told her disapprovingly. ‘It is important to tell the truth, so that people know they can trust you.’
Tears trembled on her eyelashes before tipping over and tracing tracks down her cheeks. ‘It is not a story,’ she said. ‘His arm hurts here.’ She rubbed her right wrist. ‘And his head is sticky and there is dirt all over him. He wants Ada really badly.’
Memories of stories his daernaneth had told him of the childhood bond between his adar and uncle began to stir in Elrin. Now he came to think of it, his adar still usually seemed to know if his uncle was in trouble. ‘Do you know where Galenthil is?’ he asked.
Eleniel nodded and pointed before returning the thumb to her mouth.
‘Could you find him?’
The elleth nodded again.
Elrin drew a deep breath. ‘When Ada comes back, we will tell him,’ he said.
Eleniel whimpered and held her arm. ‘No,’ she insisted. ‘Now. Find Galenthil now.’
‘We cannot,’ Elrin insisted. ‘We have to stay here. I am looking after you.’
‘I am going.’ Eleniel pulled away from him and stood up. She folded her arms, an imperious pout on her face. ‘You can stay here and do as you were told,’ she said, stamping her foot, ‘or you can come with me and look after me, but you cannot do both.’
‘I am bigger than you,’ Elrin pointed out with determination, ‘and if I say you are not leaving camp, then you are not.’
‘He is frightened.’ Eleniel’s lip wobbled and Elrin’s decisiveness wavered.
‘Ada!’ he called, turning to where the elves had disappeared. ‘Ada! Eleniel say she knows where Galenthil is. We are going to look for him!’
No answer came back, but after a moment Elrin took a small pack of first aid equipment and put it over his shoulder. ‘Bring some water,’ he commanded. ‘I hope we find him,’ he added, ‘but even if we do, I can tell you now that Ada will be cross with us. And if we do not, and they have to look for us as well, we will be in big trouble.’
‘This way,’ Eleniel said simply, ignoring his reluctance.
They found Galenthil surprisingly easily, Elrin thought, especially considering that three experienced warriors were seeking him without success. Of course, Eleniel had needed no more than an occasional pause to orient herself on her twin’s whereabouts. When she had dropped to her knees and leaned into the dark hole under the old tree, he had been unable to believe that she had come upon the place so easily, but the sound of an elfling moaning in pain had made it only too clear that she had homed in on the exact spot.
Elrin raised his head and called again. ‘Ada! Legolas! Help!’ He paused to listen carefully, but heard nothing. ‘I wish I could whistle,’ he said in exasperation. ‘That really carries.’
Turning her head, Eleniel looked at him with surprise on her grubby face. ‘Like this?’ she asked and, putting her dirty fingers in her mouth, she produced an ear-splitting whistle.
‘That’s it,’ Elrin said, impressed. ‘Climb up a bit and do it again.’ He looked round and indicated a tree that should be within the capacity of an elleth of Eleniel’s size, only to find as he turned back that she was halfway up the shell of the old oak.
Her whistle, he thought, was loud enough to attract the attention of anyone within miles, and, although he held his breath as she came down, she reached the ground safely and returned to trying to comfort her brother.
‘You are not going down there,’ he was saying insistently as Legolas raced towards them. ‘Even if I have to sit on you.’ He turned to the twins’ adar with a relief that faded to apprehension as he saw the look on Legolas’s face.
‘Ada, Galenthil fell.’ Eleniel was unimpressed by her adar’s scowl. ‘His arm hurts, but Elrin will not let me go and help him.’
‘Well, at least he has shown that much sense,’ her adar snapped. ‘I thought we told you to stay in camp,’ he told Elrin, who flinched at his adopted uncle’s sharp tone of voice.
‘Be fair,’ Elrohir said warningly, as he arrived and took in the situation. ‘We have been searching in vain – it is Elrin and Eleniel who have found him.’
Eleniel looked from one to another in confusion. ‘It is not Elrin’s fault,’ she said. ‘I made him come with me. He said we should wait for you to come back – but Galenthil hurts. He needs us now.’
Legolas closed his eyes briefly. ‘First things first,’ he remarked. ‘I am sorry, Elrin. Let us discuss this after we have got Galenthil out of there.’
‘It is no good,’ Elrohir said after a thorough investigation of the space beneath the tree. ‘We will never be able to get in there. In truth, I fail to see quite how Galenthil managed.’
‘Are we going to have to dig him out?’ Elladan asked with concern.
Eleniel started to cry silently, her hand over her mouth as she tried not to disturb those who were trying to help her brother. Absently, Elrin put an arm round her and stroked her hair. ‘I could get in there,’ he offered.
Three pairs of eyes inspected him. ‘You could,’ his adar owned reluctantly. ‘I am not sure if your presence would be that helpful.’ He looked at his son doubtfully. ‘If Galenthil is hurt,’ he said, ‘you might do more harm than good trying to move him.’
‘Eleniel says he has bumped his head,’ Elrin said simply. ‘I think it is bleeding. And his wrist hurts.’
‘Any other problems, Eleniel?’ Elladan asked her gently, watching her thoughtfully as she shook her head. ‘All right, then, my son,’ he concluded. ‘If you can get in there without hurting Galenthil further, perhaps you can help us get him out.’
‘Keep an eye on Eleniel, Elladan,’ his twin advised. ‘There is not enough room here for all of us and she seems to know how Galenthil is feeling. Tell us if there is any change.’
It was a tight fit, even for the slight elfling.
‘It opens out a bit once he has made it through the roots,’ Elrohir reported. ‘It is just as well, or we might have been forced to let Eleniel wriggle in there.’
‘I think not,’ Legolas said through his teeth. ‘A sharp blade would soon open a path.’
‘You would cut a tree?’ Elrohir said lightly.
‘It would forgive me,’ the Wood Elf replied tensely. ‘Elerrina might not. This is my son we are trying to rescue.’
Elrin ignored the tense exchanges and moved carefully to place his feet beside the younger ellon. ‘I am trying not to get any more earth on you,’ he said, as Galenthil protested. ‘Where are you injured?’
‘My arm hurts.’ Galenthil’s wails were becoming louder now that rescue seemed close.
‘Can you stand up?’
‘My head is spinning and I think . . .’
Elrin moved swiftly out of the way as Galenthil retched. ‘That will make you feel better,’ he said soothingly. His tone, so like his naneth’s under similar circumstances, made his uncle grin.
‘Can he stand up?’ Legolas asked anxiously. ‘We can probably lift him out if he can climb up a little where the gap between the roots is wider.’
‘I will help you,’ Elrin continued to talk calmly to Galenthil, who clutched at his tunic, ‘but I cannot carry you.’
He coaxed Galenthil to move to the spot where Legolas reached down in a desperate attempt to get hold of the ellon.
‘I will lift him,’ he suggested and, taking the ellon round the hips, he raised him as high as he could, so that his adar managed to grasp him under the arms and pull him to safety.
Elrohir’s face replaced his friend’s. ‘Can you reach my hand, Elrin?’ he asked.
Grasping his uncle’s wrist with one hand, he allowed Elrohir to take a firm hold on his other in the way they practised so often when they were playing at home, and it was a matter of seconds before he was free of the damp prison beneath the roots of the tree.
‘Well done,’ Elrohir said, patting him on the shoulder. ‘Although I am sure you will hear other reflections on the morning, too. You behaved well here.’
Elrin attempted to brush the loam and leaf litter from his clothes as he joined Eleniel to watch his adar attend to her twin. She slipped her hand in his and leaned against him, while her other hand sought her mouth. Elrin pushed her thumb down. ‘It is too dirty,’ he told her and she glanced at her filthy hand and wrinkled her nose.
‘He is not badly hurt,’ Elladan said with relief. ‘He might have fractured his wrist, but it could simply be a strain. The blood makes the head injury look worse than it is – it is, in fact, quite a small cut. We will need to keep an eye on him today, but I think he might even escape concussion.’
‘Let us get back to the camp, then,’ Elrohir sighed. ‘We can see about getting these elflings clean. If we return them like this, their naneths will never let us take them out again. Some warm water, food – and some serious conversation – and all will be back to normal.’
Legolas picked up his son and carried him gently, while his friend lifted Eleniel. Elladan lifted an eyebrow at Elrin, who grimaced an indignant refusal and prepared to walk.
‘I suppose we should not be surprised,’ Legolas said with resignation. ‘We have had an easy time so far with Elrin, but this was bound to become more challenging once the twins were involved.’
Elrohir laughed lightly. ‘At least,’ he said, ‘it was all pure accident and mischance – and we have learned a valuable lesson.’
‘What might that be?’ Elladan enquired as they reached their camp.
‘Always,’ his brother said with a wry grin, ‘expect the unexpected – because, I am sorry to say, our offspring are turning out to be just like us!’
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