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Elflings 8: Liquidate
‘We have been banished,’ Elladan said plaintively. ‘We are unwanted. The ellyth have claimed the pool for themselves and commanded us to go away. Miriwen said that if they catch sight of any male older than Ellanthir, there will be trouble.’
Elrin snorted with laughter.
‘It is not funny, my son,’ his adar mourned, although his eyes were sparkling. ‘If your naneth makes a threat like that, it is wiser to heed her words. She has ways of making your life miserable that you would not believe.’
‘She will feed you liver,’ Elrohir nodded, his face straight. ‘She will ensure that your undergarments have been starched. She will have new formal robes made up for you in pink satin trimmed with rosebuds. She will encourage particularly noisy birds to sing under your window after you have spent a long evening refreshing yourself in the company of your friends. She will. . . .’
‘Enough, my brother!’ Elladan exclaimed. ‘You are giving me nightmares already.’ He grinned. ‘I think it would be wiser to obey her command to seek other ways to get into mischief today.’
‘But it is so hot!’ Galenthil protested. ‘I was looking forward to spending another afternoon in the water.’
‘I think that was the point,’ his adar grinned. ‘We have been hogging the pool and our loving wives, naneths and sisters have decided that it must end. It is only fair, I suppose, that they should have one afternoon to frolic in the water.’
‘We never said that they had to stay away,’ his son said reasonably. ‘They could have joined us.’
The adults exchanged rueful glances. ‘That argument would no longer work even on Aewlin and Nimloth,’ Elrohir sighed. ‘Ellyth do not like to swim with ellyn. Not after the age of twenty or so.’
Galenthil opened his mouth, then, thinking better of what he was going to say, closed it again. His adar flushed slightly, but remained silent. Elrohir raised an eyebrow at him.
Elladan grinned. ‘Except under very special circumstances about which you are far too young to know,’ he added. ‘Moonlight, maybe, solitude, the scent of honeysuckle on the air . . .’ He allowed his voice to fade away as Legolas’s blush intensified.
‘And, speaking as the proud adar of daughters,’ Elrohir said mildly, ‘I am glad of their – reserve. I would prefer not to have to complain about the behaviour of certain ellyn towards them. I am sure Adar found it to be a relief when some among us were on patrol – at least he knew he would be spared indignant visitations.’ He gazed meaningfully at his brother before changing the subject. ‘So what shall we do?’ he asked. ‘I do not believe any restrictions have been placed on us, other than that we should be well beyond sight of the pool.’
‘We will do things that are only suitable for ellyn,’ Elladan sniffed. ‘See how the ellyth like that!’
‘What kind of things would they be?’ Legolas asked with interest, leaning back against the trunk of a solid chestnut. ‘Provide us with details, my friend.’ He watched with amusement as Elladan struggled to come up with some suggestions for activities that would not arouse the wrath of their wives. ‘I take it you have removed some of your favourites from the list – Elrin and Galenthil are, as yet, too young to indulge in wine-tippling and gambling – and I would be interested to know what is left.’
‘Are you saying I am shallow, elfling?’ Elladan objected. ‘That I have no resources beyond the obvious?’
Legolas laughed. ‘Not at all,’ he denied. ‘Just that the only occupations at which the ellyth turn up their noses tend to be ones to which no-one wishes to introduce the impressionable young.’
Galenthil and Elrin exchanged glances of exasperation.
‘No-one in his right mind wants to indulge in adolescent excess in the presence of his parents anyway,’ Elrohir said placidly. ‘I know I could not have imagined a worse fate than being forced to watch Adar and Glorfindel acting like Elladan and me.’
At least,’ his brother qualified his words, ‘not if they knew we were there.’ He grinned. ‘Do you remember . . . ?’
Elrohir shuddered. ‘Every time I am kept awake in the depths of a restless night,’ he said. ‘Do not remind me.’
‘There are more pools than this,’ Elrin suggested. ‘Why do we not just follow the stream back into the hills until we come to one that is suitable? It is too hot to ride – and although it is fun to run through the trees, I would rather have a goal in mind.’
‘There is that pool over there,’ Galenthil suggested, waving a vague hand northwards. ‘The big one beyond the grove of oaks. We would be safe from the ellyth there, because Aewlin says it gives her the shivers, so Nimloth refuses to go there too. It could be a special place, just for us.’
‘Why not?’ Elladan shrugged. ‘As long as we do not have to remain here, listening to the ellyth enjoying themselves while we sit and swelter, it is fine with me.’
Elerrina giggled. ‘Have you ever heard so much fuss made about so little?’ she asked.
‘Frequently,’ Miriwen told her, straight-faced. ‘I sometimes wonder who the elfling is in my household. Elrin often seems to have twice the maturity of his adar.’
‘But then,’ Sirithiel pointed out, ‘at other times he has been known to prove that his is his adar’s son.’
‘Thank goodness.’ Miriwen slipped off her shift and dived neatly into the pool. A ripple spread out across the calm surface, but she remained unseen, surfacing finally near the small fall of water that fed the pond. ‘I would not want him to be too well-behaved. It would be unnatural,’ she said. She looked over to where her infant son slept safely in the shade of an obliging birch.
Elerrina tested the water with her toes. ‘It is colder than it looks,’ she remarked.
‘It is delightful,’ Sirithiel protested. ‘Just exactly the place to be on an afternoon such as this.’
‘M’mm.’ Elerrina glanced round the tree-fringed pool, enjoying the contented hum of bees and sun-warmed trees in the dappled light, her delight obvious.
‘You have taken to the life of a Wood Elf,’ Miriwen commented.
‘Who would not?’ Elerrina replied simply, sliding carefully into the cool green water. ‘It is the way elves were meant to live – at one with the world around them, with space enough to breathe and grow and be.’
‘You have been listening too closely to your husband,’ Sirithiel told her. ‘I believe I am aware of quite a few people who would not agree to forego all the comforts of city dwelling, together with the courtesies of court life to come and spend several months sleeping on the ground and cooking over a camp fire.’
‘Your parents, for two,’ Miriwen added.
Elerrina remained silent.
‘It is not disloyal to them to let off steam occasionally,’ Sirithiel said gently. ‘Sometimes you have to speak to someone – and Legolas is probably not the best audience for this.’
With a sigh, Elerrina rolled onto her back and floated, her hair the colour of autumn beech leaves spreading out round her like a halo. ‘It is so difficult,’ she admitted. ‘I love my parents dearly, but my adar simply refuses to admit that this way of life suits me. He can almost forgive Legolas for being my husband when we are seated at the High King’s table in Tirion, or if we are compelled to accept the trappings of royalty among the greatest of the Noldor – but he cannot accept that we would rather live simply in the forest. Between them, Legolas and my adar tug at me like a pair of dogs fighting over a bone. It was a relief when my parents went home,’ she admitted reluctantly.
‘It will get better in time,’ Miriwen said sympathetically. ‘Your adar is still adjusting.’
‘He is a slow learner, then,’ Elerrina pronounced.
‘I was interested in Elladan for some several hundred years before I sailed,’ Miriwen said easily, ‘although he never noticed me, and it was several hundred more before he and Elrohir came west – and still it took my adar time to become accustomed to the thought of him as a son-in-law. I think it was a good few decades before he stopped wanting to take my poor love outside and demand what had taken him so long. It can be a slow long-drawn-out process – they are males, after all. But it is worth all the gentle persistence you can muster. Taryatur will be Legolas’s adar-in-law for a very long time – and you do not wish to become alienated from your family.’
‘I know.’ Elerrina rolled over and looked at her friends. ‘I am just a little down-hearted at the moment. My parents’ visit did not end well.’ She smiled wryly. ‘I thought I was going to be able to get through it without any open hostility, and then my adar had to announce, just as he was leaving, that I would always be able to return to them when I had had enough of pioneer living. I thought Legolas would spit him, but he managed to control himself just long enough for Adar to disappear through the trees.’
Miriwen put her head back and laughed. ‘I wish I could have seen it,’ she said regretfully. ‘Did he take an axe again and go out to split wood? Or confine himself to running through the trees throwing acorns at the departing guests? Do not worry about it, Elerrina! Legolas can always cheer himself up with the recollection that it is with him that you live and to him that you are bound. He will get over it.’
As Elerrina smiled, Sirithiel turned her gaze towards the path that led to their camp. ‘I am becoming rather concerned at the slow arrival of our daughters,’ she said. ‘I know we left them to wash the dishes and tidy up – but that should not have taken them this long. I would have thought their desire to swim would have brought them here long before now. I cannot imagine how they can have got themselves into trouble whilst carrying out such tasks – but do you think we should go and check?’
‘How far is ‘over there’?’ Elladan asked. ‘It seems to be a good deal further than I thought it might be.’
‘Are you all right?’ His brother looked at him with concern. ‘You do not want to use that leg too much. It is healed, but it is not yet as it was before.’
‘I am fine.’ Elladan flapped his hand. ‘Stop fussing, Elrohir. It is just too hot to want to travel too far – and the flies are annoying me.’
Elrin looked anxiously at his adar. ‘It is not much further. Just the other side of those trees.’
‘That seems about right.’ Elladan rested an affectionate hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘I think I should just about make it before I feel the need to collapse on the ground and pant like a dog.’
‘I hope it is all right here,’ Galenthil said with sudden doubt.
‘There is water?’ Legolas said easily. ‘And trees? It will be fine. We will have a good time – and when we get back the ellyth will feel mean for having sent us away and have our supper ready for us. It should be a good afternoon.’
The air beneath the trees was still and sultry, the leaves hanging limp in the warm air. The usual forest birds were sheltering from the sun and the woods were silent but for the buzzing of the irritating little black flies.
Galenthil speeded up as the scent of water freshened the air. ‘Come on,’ he called eagerly, dodging between the trees and leaping over the patches of brambles.
‘Go,’ Elladan commanded, giving his son a gentle push. ‘You would not want to wait another minute when you could be getting wet.’
‘He is growing up,’ Legolas murmured as Elrin followed his friend with rather more dignity. ‘He seems to hover sometimes between wanting to go off with Galenthil and preferring to stay with the adults.’
‘Or not wanting to be anywhere near any of us,’ his adar said ruefully. ‘It is one of the reasons that Miriwen was so receptive to the idea of us all coming away to spend the summer in the woods. She wants him to spend time with his family and his brother before he spreads his wings and flies the nest.’
‘What do you plan to do with him?’ Legolas asked curiously. ‘It has been on my mind recently. What future is there for our offspring here? In a way, there is too broad a choice – they have none of the constraints that faced us. I was bound to be a warrior from my first days – and so, I imagine, were you, for all that Imladris was a realm at peace.’ He sighed. ‘But Galenthil . . . He has no need to be anything. He will never need to defend his home; never be confronted by battle; never face the prospect of wearing his daeradar’s crown. What is he to do?’
‘I doubt there will be a problem,’ Elrohir considered. ‘They have time to try different things and learn to be what they are meant to be.’
‘Easy for you to say,’ Elladan objected. He stopped and grinned. ‘That sounds quite comic, actually. We have spent the last years sympathising with you over your heedless daughters – only to find that their paths are quite clear before them. Nimloth’s healing skills will drive her and Aewlin appears to have been unfortunate enough to inherit Daernaneth’s inner eye.’
‘Although I could wish that she had not,’ Elrohir added ruefully.
‘Elrin will continue to train as a warrior?’ Legolas enquired. ‘He seems to enjoy the work involved, but it seems, in many ways, a futile effort.’
Elladan shrugged. ‘The discipline is good, I think. And part of learning to command is learning to obey. I would not insist on it if he were unhappy about it, but he seems quite willing.’
‘Of course,’ his brother said, ‘Miriwen grew up in Lasgalen. You might have more trouble convincing Elerrina that your son should endure warrior training.’
‘Oddly, no,’ Legolas told him. ‘It appears to be customary – and Valar forbid that the sons of the Noldor should do anything that is other than customary.’ He smiled ruefully. ‘I am less enthusiastic about the tradition that sends him away from home to dwell in other households.’
Raising his eyebrows, Elladan turned to look at him. ‘It would seem to be a matter of choosing your household,’ he remarked. ‘Surely there is no need to send him where you would not wish him to go.’
‘Elerrina refuses to see why Galenthil should not go and live with her brother.’ Legolas tried to keep his tone neutral.
‘Camentur is all right,’ Elrohir judged. ‘And Galenthil gets on well enough with his cousin, does he not?’
‘It is not so much the prospect of having my son live with his uncle,’ Legolas acknowledged, ‘as having him too close to his daeradar.’
‘I would not worry,’ Elladan shrugged. ‘Súrion is older – you can insist that he has to come and spend a year or two with you first. Once we have him trained, he will see that Galenthil remains uncorrupted by Noldor ways.’
Legolas laughed. ‘Fine words from the great-grandson of the Noldor’s High King, do you not think? You should be agitating for Galenthil to learn your foreign ways!’
‘We are mongrels, remember?’ Elladan prodded his friend with a sharp finger. ‘We have more Sindar blood than Noldor – and we have spent far too many nights sitting beside small camp-fires and stinking of orc blood to care much for the dance of diplomacy. Come on – let us find the water before I melt into a puddle of grease.’
The pool was beautiful, Legolas noted as they emerged from between the trees. It gleamed in the afternoon sunlight, still as glass except where the movement of the tall reeds produced trembling rings that shivered out across the surface. It was quiet: not a single duck or grebe moved on the water and there were no sounds of reed warblers or buntings. But the delights of their surroundings held their attention for no more than a passing moment. Confused, the three elves looked around with increasing urgency.
‘Where are the ellyn?’ Elladan asked.
Elrin’s greater length of leg had ensured that he had caught up with Galenthil by the time the trees parted reluctantly to let them emerge into the brightly sunlit shore of the small lake.
The younger ellon turned to him and smiled broadly. ‘I cannot wait to try the water,’ he said, pulling at his tunic.
‘Not yet,’ Elrin grabbed his arm. He glanced over his shoulder. It was still impossible to pick detail from the murmur of voices and the adults were out of sight among the trees. He turned a wicked grin on his friend. ‘I wonder how they would react if we were not here when they arrive.’
‘Oh yes,’ Galenthil’s eyes sparkled. ‘Shall we hide in the trees?’
‘They would tell your adar, would they not? We would need to be a bit cleverer than that.’
‘They are too good at tracking for us to be able to get away from them on ground like this,’ Galenthil decided, stirring the dust with a disdainful foot.
‘And the water would show it had been disturbed, but the rocks . . .’ Elrin squinted at the smooth water-washed stones that followed the shore to the low dark cliff deep in shadow.
‘Come on,’ Galenthil whispered gleefully, ‘before they get here.’
Elrin watched closely as he sped behind the younger ellon, but had to admit that Galenthil was very light on his feet. He doubted whether he would have been able to track his footprints on the glassy-smooth rocks, but, of course their adars and uncle were a rather different matter. The shadows beneath the ledge seemed even deeper as they grew closer – if they were quiet, they should be able to evade the adults’ first search and stay hidden long enough to make it funny.
‘Wriggle in as far as you can,’ he commanded Galenthil. ‘We do not want them to see us.’
The rock felt cool to the touch and the ground beneath it was surprisingly cold and damp. The gap was none too wide, either, but, although he was broader in the shoulder than Galenthil, Elrin was wiry and they both worked their way backwards to the point where the years’ worth of dust and leaves met the huge slab above them in shadow too dark even for elven sight to penetrate.
‘How long to you think it will take them to find us?’ Galenthil murmured.
Elrin peered through the narrow slice of light to the outside. ‘It depends,’ he said. ‘They might not try too hard. Sometimes, when I was an elfling, Adar would pretend to look for me while taking the chance to have some peace and quiet. On the other hand,’ he grinned, ‘I doubt they know where we are – so they might put in rather more effort.’ He squirmed sideways. ‘Why is it that there are always spiky things right under your ribs when you are somewhere you cannot make a noise?’
‘It is like wanting to sneeze as soon as you have to be silent,’ Galenthil agreed. ‘Or needing to scratch as soon as you are told to keep still.’
In an attempt to find a more comfortable position, Elrin pushed at the ground beneath him and twisted before resting, his nose just above the gritty surface where, beneath him, an old zigzag crack extended across the floor of their hidey hole. Then, as Elrin watched, it began to stretch out slow fingers like the fracturing of ice on a spring pool. He stared, frozen for a moment, as tiny stones began to slip into its widening mouth, like the sand tumbling into the maw of an hourglass.
He scrabbled forwards helplessly as he felt the rock shift beneath his weight. ‘Get out of here!’ he said urgently, but before the words had fully formed and certainly before Galenthil had any chance to move, the heap of detritus crumbled and fell, pitching them both down a chute of uneven stone into total darkness.
Galenthil’s voice wavered, as if he had asked the same question before and was expecting no reply.
A harsh slither was followed by silence and a distant splash.
Elrin moaned, unable to make himself more clearly understood.
‘Keep still, Elrin,’ Galenthil said shakily. ‘We are on the edge of a shelf and I think there is a big drop.’
‘What happened?’ Elrin tried to concentrate, but all he could remember was noise and speed and the sharp blows of small rocks freed from the pile on which they had been resting. And fear. He could remember fear.
‘I think water pours down here – in winter, when the level in the pool is higher,’ Galenthil told him. ‘And we are on the edge of what is usually a waterfall. Try not to move, ’Rin. I have dropped a few stones and it is a long time before they hit the water – and some of them are landing on rocks.’
Elrin tried to focus on what the younger ellon was telling him. ‘Have you moved away from the edge, Galenthil?’ he asked. ‘It is too dark to take any chances.’
‘I have to come and find you, Elrin,’ Galenthil insisted. ‘You sound as if you are too close to the drop. We need to get you to the back of the shelf if we can.’
‘I think it would be better if I were to remain still, ’Thil,’ Elrin mumbled. He closed his eyes again – it was too dark to see anything anyway – and tried to decide how he felt. ‘I do not seem to be hanging over a precipice and I think I will be ill if I try to move.’
‘It is shock,’ his friend said wisely. ‘I was the same when I tried to leap further than I should have and fell from the oak. Do you hurt anywhere in particular, Elrin?’
The ellon tried to decide. His head was pounding and felt sticky, as if blood had begun to congeal over some gash; his arm felt dreadful and he could not move it, but the rest of him was – all right, he supposed, considering he had just fallen the Valar only knew how far.
‘Just my arm, I think. How are you?’ He felt a wave of guilt that intensified his nausea. He should never have encouraged Galenthil to hide here with him. It would be his fault if his friend was hurt.
‘I am bruised and scraped, that is all.’ Galenthil shifted awkwardly and a few more pebbles rolled over the edge to land in the water below them. ‘Elrin, I have been calling and calling. I think that Adar cannot hear us.’
‘They will come.’ Elrin tried to sound confident. ‘First they have to decide to look for us. Listen for them, ’Thil, and save the yelling for when they are close. They will get us out safely.’
‘Should I try to climb up? I can feel places I can hold on and it is not too steep.’
‘No!’ The sharp word made Elrin’s head spin and he had to swallow several times to steady his stomach. ‘No, Galenthil,’ he said more gently. ‘It is just a matter of time. They will find us.’
Galenthil looked anxiously in the direction of his voice. He was not sure that they had that much time. It had seemed hours before Elrin had regained consciousness and even now he was clearly hurt worse than he was prepared to admit. Nothing short of serious injury would keep his friend flat out in the dark in circumstances of which he knew nothing – not if he were able to do anything about it. And, thought Galenthil, he could smell the blood even if he was unable to see it. Elrin needed help and he needed it quickly.
The ellon forced himself to calm his breathing and control his rising panic. The small amount of light that crept under the heavy lintel far above their heads was not enough to help him see around him, but it did reduce the blackness to shades of dark grey. Whatever Elrin thought, Galenthil was fairly sure that he would be able to climb back up the steep chute that had deposited them here – but he could not be sure that leaving his friend was the best thing to do. He had no doubt that their adars would arrive eventually and it might be best to see what he could do to help his friend.
The sharp edges of the loose rocks dug into his scraped knees as he eased his way across to where Elrin lay. He kept the rock wall against his shoulder, reaching out cautiously at each movement to ensure that the ledge was wide enough to support him. Despite his care, odd pebbles rolled away to fall over the edge and he knew he was making more than enough noise for Elrin to know he was coming, but the older ellon made no protest. Galenthil drew in an anxious breath of the damp musty air – if his friend were awake, he would be issuing orders. And if Elrin was drifting in and out of consciousness, he needed help now.
Elrin cried out as his friend’s exploring hand brushed against his shoulder, but he did not speak.
The rock of the ledge seemed wider here, Galenthil thought with relief, and there was a natural wall that would normally channel any water, but also acted as a barrier to stop Elrin falling any further.
As gently as he could, Galenthil ran his fingers over his friend’s limp form. Apart from the arm, the younger ellon decided that he could not feel any other obvious breaks and the fact that the pool of blood beneath Elrin’s head was no longer liquid suggested that any bleeding had stopped, but he could tell that his friend was not going to get up and walk away from this any time soon.
Galenthil blinked back his tears. ‘I am going to get Adar,’ he said firmly. ‘Do not move.’
As he drew back, an unexpected flash of light brightened the fall of rock, followed by a rumbling that made both ellyn flinch.
‘Is more debris coming down?’ Elrin asked hoarsely.
‘No,’ Galenthil told him bleakly. ‘That was thunder. We cannot stay here, Elrin. I am going to get help.’
He had to go, Elrin decided, his thoughts brought to sudden clarity. If rain raised the level of the water, their refuge would become part of a cascade and it might prove impossible to retrieve either of them. Better for Galenthil to climb out while the rock chute was still dry than for him wait in hope of rescue.
‘Be careful, ’Thil,’ he said. ‘My life will not be worth living if Eleniel decides that I have broken her favourite brother.’
Galenthil touched Elrin’s cheek in a gesture of farewell. ‘I am her only brother,’ he said with dignity. ‘You wait here, now.’
‘I promise,’ Elrin’s voice was no more than a pained thread.
The first few steps were the worst. Galenthil could feel the emptiness behind him – it was cold and dark and he felt as if it was drawing him downwards, but once he had scrambled up to the tunnel that had brought them here, his confidence increased. The climb was not as frightening as it could have been, he told himself firmly. The chute was nowhere near vertical and that more than made up for the smoothness of the water-worn rock as he got higher. And he was a Wood Elf – there was nothing that he could not climb.
He was, he thought, about halfway up when his boot slipped. His leg slid away from him and he clutched desperately at a small hook of rock as he scrabbled desperately to find his footing. Tiny pebbles and flakes of stone skittered their way downwards, reminding him of how far he had to fall. A distant calm part of his mind took note of the fact that he was trembling as he gripped the rock and tried to stop panting.
‘I can do this,’ he muttered. ‘It is only a matter of walking up a hill. I can do it.’ His knees shook and he had to prise his fingers from the safety of the rock as he talked himself into taking the next step, finally closing his eyes and forcing himself to move.
The light increased as he climbed, but the brassy sun had disappeared. Either they had been lost for longer than he thought, Galenthil decided, or the afternoon had become overcast. He clambered cautiously over the newly broken rock to emerge under the heavy lintel under which they had hidden. The gap was bigger, he noted. Just as well: he could not see the adults squeezing through the original amount of space – and they really did not have time to dig a larger entrance. Galenthil drew a deep breath as he came out into torrential rain in a world that felt clean and free.
‘Adar!’ he called. ‘Adar!’
‘I will go,’ Elrohir insisted mildly. ‘You cannot risk injuring your leg – and Legolas is not fond of caves at the best of times. And anyway, I have more skill in healing than he does.’
‘He is my son!’
‘And you will be here to care for him as he emerges.’
Legolas returned with a long rope made of strips from their drying cloths. ‘It is thin,’ he said, ‘but the fabric is strong – and if it is not enough, there are vines. ‘He looked at Elrohir doubtfully, ‘but they will take longer to prepare.’
‘Is Galenthil all right?’
Glancing quickly at the ellon, Legolas nodded. ‘For now,’ he said. ‘He will be fine for the moment – until Elrin is safely retrieved, at any rate. After that – I am less sure. He is fairly shaken.’
Elladan sighed. ‘Be careful, Elrohir,’ he said. ‘Galenthil says it is a very long drop – and you are not good at bouncing.’
‘Put the rope round you,’ Legolas insisted. ‘Going down is often worse than coming up. We would not want you to slip.’
‘Thank you,’ his friend said dryly, tucking several swiftly made torches into his pack. ‘I will do my best to uphold your clear trust in me.’ He drew a deep breath and took a flickering torch before ducking under the rock shelf. ‘At least I will be out of the rain,’ he commented airily. ‘I will be back soon.’
The light helped, he thought as he eased himself down. At the very least, it made the drop less obvious. Despite the debris, the chute was smooth – clearly polished by centuries of water – and he knew he could manage it without much difficulty. What worried him was what he might find at the bottom. Galenthil was fairly level-headed for an elfling his age and he was clearly concerned about Elrin’s state.
‘Careful.’ His nephew’s voice was taut. ‘You are nearly down – and Galenthil said that the last part involves a climb.’
‘I have two strong elves on the end of a rope,’ Elrohir told him cheerfully. ‘They promised they would not let go.’
‘Good.’ Elrin shifted uncomfortably and a few small stones spun away. ‘I am sorry, uncle.’
‘Accidents happen.’ Elrohir lowered himself carefully to the ledge. ‘This must be spectacular when water is cascading from the rock – but I think I would prefer to be viewing it from somewhere else. Let me have a look at you, Elrin.’
‘I did not mean to put Galenthil in any danger,’ his nephew said. ‘It was only a joke.’
Elrohir wedged the torch into a crevice in the wall behind the ellon. ‘You have heard enough about the accidents your adar and I had – and we have only ever told you about the least risky. We know what happens when ellyn get together, Elrin. We know you well enough to know that you would never seek out danger deliberately.’
He dropped his pack and removed an assortment of hastily-assembled bandages and splints. ‘Galenthil thinks your arm is the worst injury.’
Drawing his knees up and holding his ribs with his undamaged hand, Elrin gave a single nod. ‘I believe I hit my head,’ he said. ‘Though I think the bleeding has stopped. And I feel unwell.’
Elrohir’s examination was gentle but thorough, and it left Elrin fighting back tears of discomfort and helplessness.
‘You have dislocated your shoulder,’ his uncle concluded, ‘and I suspect you are concussed – which accounts for the nausea. I will see to your arm and bind it to keep it from moving and then see about getting you out of here.’
A faint smile crossed Elrin’s face. ‘It is raining then?’ he asked.
‘Pouring,’ Elrohir confirmed. ‘Or we would proceed considerably more slowly. But, somehow, I think this is not a good place to be after heavy rain.’
Despite his uncle’s careful manipulation, Elrin could not help crying out as his arm clicked back in its socket, aware of nothing but a flare of pain that left him completely limp. The ached eased off slightly as the limb was bandaged, but the stomach-churning, head-throbbing nausea returned in full force as his uncle slung the pack over his shoulder and bent to lift him as gently as he could.
The rope, such as it was, had been drawn round him and knotted securely, Elrin noticed, so that his uncle was climbing without anything to keep him safe. The ellon realised that the torch had been left below them and that they were climbing in the dark towards a distant gleam of daylight. He took hold of Elrohir’s tunic in his good hand and gripped it tightly. Nothing would make him let go, he decided. Nothing.
‘You could not call out, my brother!’ his adar’s voice snapped as the light of the warm afternoon reddened his closed eyelids. ‘You did not think to let us know what was happening down there, did you?’
‘I was otherwise engaged,’ Elrohir told him as he emerged into the rain, ‘and sound does not travel well – the cave seems to swallow it. Have you managed to find shelter? Your son could do with a rest, before we head back to camp.’
Elladan inspected his son closely. ‘Concussion?’ he asked.
‘I would say so. Hard to tell in the pitch dark. And his shoulder. We need to wash out his wounds and make sure they are clean – I think his head might need a stitch or two.’ Elrohir glanced at his twin. ‘But it could have been so much worse, Elladan. It is a long way down – and they ended up on a ledge above a drop so deep that my ears could not work out how far below us the water was.’
‘Shall I take him? We want to carry him over the other side of the lake – Legolas is improvising a shelter. He seems fairly sure that the trees will be willing to keep the rain off. And Galenthil is gathering wood.’ He grinned. ‘Who would have thought, an hour or so ago, that we would be wanting a fire?’
‘Adar.’ Elrin forced his eyes open.
Elladan stroked his cheek before he eased his son into his arms. ‘You will be fine, Elrin,’ he said gently. ‘You need say nothing now. We will soon have you feeling better.’
‘I feel better already,’ his son smiled shakily. ‘I am so glad to be out of there.’
His uncle looked at the rain gushing down the rock to pool at their feet. ‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘I cannot say that I am sorry, either.’
‘Are you still sure that being a Wood Elf in the forest is such a good thing?’ Miriwen asked lightly as her infant son suckled enthusiastically.
A rumble of thunder complained about the end to their afternoon’s pleasure.
Elerrina watched the rain fall beyond the shelter of the simple flet, where generally they only kept such goods as needed to remain dry and safe. ‘I like the smell of rain,’ she said. ‘And the forest already grows better for it.’
A rattle of stones on the wooden platform ended in a crow of delight from Nimloth. ‘I won!’ she exclaimed.
‘Luck,’ Eleniel declared. ‘You had to win some time!’
Sirithiel laughed softly. ‘You are both very good. How many did you catch, Nimloth?’
Her daughter displayed her handful of small stones. ‘Three more than Eleniel,’ she said.
‘Oh, does it matter?’ Aewlin took a couple of hasty steps and gazed northwards.
‘You seem edgy,’ Miriwen commented, as she lifted Ellanthir to her shoulder and rubbed his back. ‘What is the matter, Aewlin?’
The fair-haired elfling peered between the trees as if concentration alone would enable her to see through the concealing leaves. Her grass-stained foot tapped nervously. ‘Something is not right,’ she said. She drew a deep breath, almost as if she was seeking a distant scent. ‘Can you not feel it?’
‘No,’ Miriwen said thoughtfully, turning to look in the same direction, ‘although this little one has been distracting me. Should I?’
‘I think some of them are returning,’ Aewlin told her, ‘but not all. And . . ,’ she wriggled nervously, ‘there is something dark and dusty in my mind. And water. Lots of water.’
Her naneth put an arm round her. ‘There is nothing we can do about it,’ she said practically. ‘Not now, at any rate. We will have to wait.’
Eleniel joined them. ‘I hope they come soon,’ she said.
Elladan squeezed out the rag that had been one of his favourite tunics. With the grime of their fall removed and the scrapes washed clean, it was clear that both ellyn had been far luckier than might have been expected. Galenthil had been particularly fortunate – and he was inclined to agree that the best thing for him would be to return with Legolas to seek the safety of their camp and alert the ellyth to what had happened.
‘I would like Miriwen to check up on Elrin before we move him,’ Elrohir said candidly. ‘She is far more aware of the perils of treating head injuries – she says that she realised long since that we were only too likely to return with our brains shaken loose and someone had to know what to do – and, apart from that, she is his naneth.’
‘I would be easier in my mind if only the rain would ease,’ Legolas inspected their immediate surroundings. ‘This area seems to act as a bowl gathering water from all around – the lake’s level seems to be rising already.’
The stretch of gritty sand deposited in front of the ledge they had used as a hiding place was narrower, Galenthil observed. As the edge of the water lipped closer to the solid slab, he could see a foamy margin, as if the rain was whipping up something long undisturbed in the depths of the pool and the thousands of rippling rings brought into existence by the countless raindrops were diminished to insignificance by the lapping waves.
‘We will go ahead,’ his adar agreed, putting a comforting hand on Galenthil’s back and leading him towards the gap between the trees. ‘And I will come back with Miriwen and horses – it will be easier for Elrin to ride with someone rather than be carried.’ He smiled easily. ‘He is getting rather too long to lug around.’
‘I can walk,’ Elrin protested. ‘I am fine, truly.’
Elladan laughed. ‘We know the value of that kind of objection, my son,’ he said affectionately. ‘We have all used that line often enough ourselves to realise that it is meaningless. I am afraid you will just have to let us look after you.’
His son managed a slight smile. ‘My arm does ache,’ he allowed.
‘As does your head,’ his uncle suggested. ‘But your eyes are reacting to light as they should, and your nausea appears to be wearing off – you appear to be as talented at surviving adventure as your adar. By the time Legolas returns, you should be well enough to return to camp.’
Elrin closed his eyes, only to have his adar call his name insistently in a voice that demanded obedience.
‘I am sorry, my son,’ Elladan said. ‘You may not sleep – not until your naneth has seen you. She would have my ears.’
Elrohir smiled at him. ‘You can blame Miriwen for the fact that we have not made you any willowbark tea, as well,’ he added. ‘She has little faith in us as healers, Elrin, and would be most wrathful if we dosed you before she had a chance to check our work.’
‘You just want to pass the responsibility to Naneth.’ Elrin licked his dry lips and tried to smile. ‘You want me to blame her for making me drink vile potions.’
‘Discovered!’ his adar said playfully, lifting his son’s head just enough to offer a trickle of water to moisten his mouth. ‘You are getting too wise to our tricks now – it is not good enough.’
The rain pattered almost indignantly on the overlapping leaves above their heads, as if it failed to see why it should not be able to make these visitors as wet as the rest of the creatures of the forest, but its cool scent freshened the air and, Elrin thought, eased his headache, so that he was more aware of the throb of his shoulder and the sting of the cut on his head. He blinked, his eyelids heavy enough that it was an effort to raise them again. It was a good thing that they were back beyond the edge of the water, he thought, among trees that had clearly stood undrowned for centuries, because the streams of water now carrying mud and twigs into the lake were clearly having a surprisingly rapid effect on the water’s spread.
‘I am not surprised that Aewlin does not care for this lake,’ his uncle commented to Elladan. ‘I have decided that I am not too fond of it, either. It seems to have hidden depths beneath its gleaming surface.’
‘Limestone,’ Elladan agreed. ‘It is a deceptive rock. More beneath the surface than the eye can see.’
The small patch of shore had disappeared, Elrin noted. Water now stretched its fingers under the rock where he and Galenthil had hidden. It would not be long before it began to stream steadily down the tunnel to the place where the torch had been left to light their ascent, where it would scour the shelf clear of whatever detritus rested there. And, despite the warm glow of the small fire, he shivered.
‘I told you to keep away from here,’ Aewlin sniffed.
‘You said it was creepy,’ Elrin told her mildly, touching a tentative finger to the healing gash on his forehead. ‘That is hardly a warning of danger.’
‘Leave it alone.’ Nimloth leaned over and slapped his hand away from his face.
‘Oh, you will make a very gentle healer!’ her cousin complained.
‘You should know Aewlin well enough to listen to her feelings.’ Eleniel looked at him reproachfully. ‘She is right far too often to be good for her. And then you and Galenthil would have avoided an unpleasant experience.’
‘He had another nightmare last night?’ Elrin knew Eleniel well enough to be aware of what would make her complain about his foolishness.
‘I woke him just as it was starting.’ She looked broodingly at the silver lake. ‘He was dreaming of falling – and unending darkness.’
Elrin gazed at the broad slab, now half-submerged beneath the apparently innocuous surface of the lake. He knew how Galenthil felt – except his dreams also contained the weight of water and the crashing tumble of the cascade.
‘Another time,’ he offered, ‘I will pay more attention to Aewlin’s gloomy forebodings. Perhaps.’
His cousin grinned. ‘At last you show some signs of wisdom,’ she declared. ‘You listen to Nimloth and me, and you will not go far wrong.’ She pushed past him and led her sister off among the trees in pursuit of Galenthil, leaving her cousin speechless.
Eleniel giggled. ‘Do you know the worst thing?’ she said as they followed the others into the fresh greenness of the rain-washed wood. ‘On this occasion, at least, she is right!’
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