A Hunt In The Woods by Gwathwen
Chapter 1: Dunked with Ducks
Rivendell lay bathed in the glow of the dawn as the rays of the sun slowly spread their light across the realm, raising the inhabitants from the night’s slumbers. Day was greeted with pleasure for spring had arrived and the elves of Rivendell had their days full with enjoying the beautiful days, there was hunting to be done so that the cellars could be replenished, there were flowers in bloom, birds singing and warm sunshine to enjoy it all in.
Elrond, lord of Rivendell stood on a balcony watching the arrival of dawn over his land, albeit a little tiredly. He had been busy the last two days, but the worry lines that had marked his face then had eased today. He entered the room he had spent most of the last few days in, and went over to his foster son’s bed.
The human boy, no, he should think of him as a man now, lay sleeping peacefully now, displaying few signs of the fever that had held him in its throes for almost two days. It had broken the morning before but he was still very weak. Estel had returned from a hunting trip with his twin foster brothers Elrohir and Elladan one evening, a few days ago. And in one piece, much to Elrond’s delighted surprise. Experience had taught him that Estel on a hunting trip attracted more trouble than his twins had in all their millennia of existence.
He had spoken too soon, however. His three sons had entered through the gates arguing, as usual, over whose fault it had been that the deer they had been stalking had escaped.
“Estel, of course,” Elladan was insisting, “If he hadn’t fallen out of that tree -”
“I don’t see why I needed to climb a tree in the first place,” Estel was retorting.
Elrohir broke in with,” And why did you choose to fall on the bush where those birds were nesting. If they hadn’t flown out like that, the deer would never have noticed.”
“You might at least have fallen on the deer!” Elladan complained, and then seeing his father standing on the steps waiting for them, “Ada!”
“Estel, you fell from a tree?” Elrond inquired, “Are you all right?”
“Yes, Ada, I fell on a very soft bush,” Estel replied, a little contritely for he knew his fall had scared the deer away, not to mention an entire family of birds that had been nesting there. He was in fact covered with not just his usual quota of mud, leaves and twigs, but also a few small feathers.
Elrond looked at his son contemplatively noting the air of weariness that he was trying to hide with his banter.
“Where is your cloak?” he asked, as they walked across the garden, past the sunken ornamental pools. As dusk fell, a slight chill permeated the air. And his bedraggled youngest son, who had little resistance to the cold unlike his elven brethren, seemed to have discarded his warm cloak somewhere.
Not entirely though. Estel pulled something out of the bundle he carried over one arm, the tattered remains of his finely spun cloak.
“It caught in the branches Ada,” he replied, still chagrined at the experience.
Elrohir snickered a little at this, picturing the sight of the slight young man, crashing through branches, then lying suspended in mid-air for a fraction of a second as his cloak snagged itself on a branch, and then finally crashing through the remaining branches into a small clump of bushes.
Estel glared at his brothers, both of whom were now trying hard not to laugh at the memory. He wished he had something to throw at them, but all he had was the remains of his cloak. He stood at the edge of one of the ornamental pools wishing he could throw his brothers in. Not in front of Ada though. Elrond sighed and continued towards his study, smiling as he heard the bickering continue.
“I am not the one who tripped over his own cloak while hunting,” Estel was retorting referring to what Elrohir considered the one blight in all his hunting trips, after all, that was clumsy even for a human, and he was an elf!
“That is not true,” Elrohir countered now, eyes narrowing in protest, “Elladan tripped me.”
“Humph,” Estel smirked, swung his tattered cloak over his shoulders and left for his chamber, turning around with a lordly flourish, and promptly tripping over the trailing torn edge of his cloak fell headfirst into the pool.
Elrond turned around at the sound of the huge splash, and the resultant indignant quacking of the ducks, who didn’t think to highly of this invader in their territory. Elladan and Elrohir were slumped against each other laughing. The look on Elrond’s face as he hurried back however caused them to straighten up and head for the pond.
Elrohir could barely conceal his mirth as he reached out his hand. Estel grabbed it with a furious look in his eye that wasn’t missed by his gleeful brother. Before Estel could try any funny stuff, he yanked him out dripping water over the flagged stones around the pool. His brother was covered in a tangle of leaves and lilies, one of which hung coyly over his left ear, prompting a fresh burst of laughter from the twins, adding to the cacophony of the ducks’ protests.
“Elladan, Elrohir!” Elrond commanded sternly. Any amusement he might have felt was dispelled by the sight of Estel’s dripping appearance and the woebegone look on his face as the crisp evening air struck his drenched form, raising the faintest tremor in it.
The twins must have noticed it too for they stopped laughing. Elrond tugged his son away from the pool, “Estel, you did not hurt yourself did you?” he asked, for the pool was shallow and lined with hard white stone.
Estel shook his head, “No Ada.”
An annoyed flurry of quacks could be heard came from the pond.
“Come, you need to get out of those clothes before you catch a chill,” Elladan said kindly, putting a hand around the slumped shoulders.
“Yes,” Elrohir added quietly. He was forcefully reminded that his brother was a human child who had ridden hard all day, fallen off a tree, and now stood dripping cold water onto the grass. Estel looked like he could cry, for he was cold and tired as his father and brothers suspected. And he might have cried a little if he was younger but he was seventeen now, and had no intention of doing so.
Instead he just nodded glumly and followed them inside. They went to change for dinner, and when Estel had dried himself and pulled on fresh, clean clothes and combed his hair clean he came down for dinner, in a much better mood, more cheerful, and ready to give to his brothers as good as he got.
Elrond was relieved at first when he saw his three children behaving normally but the meal progressed it had become obvious to all that much of Estel good humour was beginning to sound a little forced, and he was playing with his food more than eating it. In the flickering light of the fires that lit up the room, his face became progressively paler, and his laughter more forced till even he realised he was over-doing it and quietened down.
After the meal was over, Estel got up to leave but Elrond stopped him. He put out a hand and felt his forehead, frowning slightly at the warmness of the touch. Estel sighed. He knew the routine by now. Elves never fell sick, and as he was the only human around, when he fell sick, he felt like it was like a milestone event.
He had obeyed Elrond’s order and gone to bed promptly, he was feeling terrible there was no question there. He had little memory of the night, and the ensuing days other than that every time he had woken up in his fevered state, every muscle in his body aching, head throbbing incessantly, there had always been someone hovering over him, holding him, comforting him, whispering soothingly in his ears till he had fallen back to sleep. He had terrible dreams of orc attacks that he had not had since childhood, had woken up sobbing and fevered, to be lulled back to sleep by the tender voices of either Elrond or his brothers, all of whom were skilled healers.
When the fever had finally broken, he had woken up feeling weak, and a little nauseous. Elrond had been there at his bedside, relieved to see him recovering, and had imposed a strict bed rest on him for at least the next few days. Estel had obeyed then but by evening was chafing to get up and get moving.
Elrond smiled as he saw Estel wake up now, his cheeks still pale. The smile that reached his eyes when he saw Elrond at the foot of his bed was the greatest gift he could have asked for.
“Ada!” Estel’s voice was almost back to normal now, just the faintest croak in it, “Can I come down today?”
Elrond smiled, “Perhaps in the evening, if you feel better.”
“Then I can go for the hunt?”
Elrond sighed inwardly as he noted the underlying excitement in that one phrase. Some days hence, the twins and a few other elves from Rivendell were joining a party of the sylvan elves from Mirkwood in a hunt. Such combined efforts were few and far between nowadays so everyone involved looked forward to it. Especially Estel, who had heard of the sylvan prince’s skill with bow and arrow. Prince Legolas was considered amongst the finest archers around, even Elladan and Elrohir said so. To hunt with them was an event he had looked forward to ever since he’d been told about it.
“Ada, please – don’t say I cannot go, I am all right now, please Ada,” Estel responded desperately.
“I will see how you feel tomorrow,” Elrond told him, “and then decide.”
Estel sighed as he lay back against his pillow cursing his clumsiness. If he hadn’t fallen in the pond, he wouldn’t have fallen ill, well, he might have, Ada said he would have, but the fall had aggravated it. Well, he would just have to ensure he got better.
When his breakfast was brought up, he ate up everything on his plate. Elrond let him come down for lunch, and a walk in the gardens freshened him up no end. The next day he was up and about as good as normal, and his foster father finally, after much debate, gave his permission for him to join the hunting party.
After that everything was lost in the whirl of the preparations, arrows were fletched, packs were prepared and the horses were readied.
It was while he was sitting in his chambers the night before the hunt, gathering together his arrows, that Estel felt a slight dizziness. He sat still for a few seconds, he had been feeling slightly feverish all day, but had attributed that to his illness. He decided he would sleep early, that would help him, and if he felt really bad the next morning, he would tell Elrond. Otherwise, there was nothing that would stop him from going on the hunt.
Chapter 2: The Forest
The next morning, Estel awoke bright and early, when Elrohir whipped the covers of his bed and threatened to roll him off.
“And good morning to you too, brother,” he said as he sat up. It was still dark outside, but the sound of birds chirping indicated that sunrise would not be long.
“We are getting the horses ready, get ready quickly and come downstairs, we must leave soon or those dratted wood elves will think of us as tardy!” Elrohir shouted out over his shoulder as he left.
Estel got out of bed, shivering slightly as a chilly draught blew in through the open window. His headache was gone, he didn’t feel feverish, well, just a little lightheaded, but then who wouldn’t early in the morning when you were going out on a big hunting trip. He was glad he hadn’t told Elrond about his dizziness and headaches yesterday, or he would have been kept back in all likelihood. He hated the fuss when he got sick. And he’d just been ill, he was full of Ada’s medicines, he couldn’t fall sick again so soon, he argued with himself. He couldn’t afford too, such an opportunity didn’t arise every day.
Besides, he felt fine, perfect, just fine.
Outside, the sun had begun to rise, but the chill in the air still remained as did a soft hazy mist, a sign that spring had not arrived in her entirety.
His brothers were waiting for him, horses saddled, packs readied, waiting for the others to join them, and as usual were arguing about the last hunt.
“We can’t have the wood elves think we know nothing of hunting!” Elrohir declared.
“Then we should leave Elladan behind, he scares all the deer away just by being around,” Estel stated.
“This from one who can’t stay atop a tree!”
“I’m not a wood elf am I?”
The bickering reached Elrond’s ears as he stepped out into the courtyard.
“Ada! We were just ready to leave,” Elrohir called out upon seeing him.
“Fare thee well my sons,” Elrond said, as the other elves joined them. Estel hoped he looked fine, he didn’t want Elrond pulling him out right now. He felt fine, though, so he probably looked fine.
They mounted their horses, and waving to the elven lord, set off for the forest. The mist lay heavier among the huge moisture-laden trees. Soft clouds streaked the sky at intervals, and a cold breeze ruffled through the leaves, forcing Estel to wrap his cloak tightly around himself. He’d received a new cloak, because his old one had been in no condition to wear after his last trip.
They rode through thicker woods now, where at times the sun was completely cut off, so that all that could be seen was the swirling whiteness and dark shapes of the trunks.
“This mist will let up won’t it?” Estel asked a little anxiously. He still had his cloak wrapped tightly around him, he was feeling the cold a lot more than the elves did, as was the norm. He knew that from prior experience. But the annoying fog seemed to dampen everything and make him feel colder. He had covered his head now, for his hair was getting moist, and drops of water condensed on the leaves above kept falling on him.
“It should,” Elladan replied, “As soon as the sun is fully up, it will let off, in an hour or so, fear not, little brother.”
“I am not afraid,” Estel retorted indignantly.
The ride stretched on and on, and Estel found himself being lulled to sleep by the motion of his trotting mare as she followed her fellow horses. He tried to stay awake by trying to recognise the trees and plants they passed by.
“We are nearing the meeting point,” one of the elves called out after a long while. The sun was high up now, and the mist had long since thinning out. The party took their horses along a narrow winding uphill track. Higher they went until they reached it. The meeting point was a small clearing on a grassy cliff that rose up a little and gave a clear view of the land around, from the trees surrounding it. On a clear day one could even see the roofs of the houses in the Edain settlement in a nearby valley.
They dismounted, and after tethering the horses nearby began setting up camp, and getting water for the horses from a nearby stream that babbled its way down the cliff.
Some distance away, a small group of elves rode silently along as the sun glinted through gaps in the foliage to make latticed patterns on the forest floor. They were attired in the predominantly green shades preferred by sylvan elves from the land of Mirkwood. Leading the party on a graceful white steed was Legolas, a tall lithe figure with long blonde hair tied behind his neck, accompanied by his friend and kinsman, Herendil.
“There are too many tracks here, Legolas,” Herendil said puzzled, “There seems to be much activity in this part of the forest.”
“We are not far from the Edain settlement in the valley,” Legolas reminded him.
“And the spring equinox is nearing. They must be preparing for the festivities,” Herendil nodded in comprehension.
“Come let us hurry,” Legolas called out to his companions, we will soon reach the spot where we have to meet our friends from Rivendell.” So saying, he spurred his horse forward, followed by his companions.
When they reached the meeting place, they found that the camp was already set up. Estel watched the new arrivals interestedly. He had once seen Legolas when he was very young, on a short visit to Mirkwood. Legolas had been leaving to patrol the woods with his companions. He had not returned before they had left.
“This is Estel, our brother,” Elrohir introduced him to Legolas who smiled at him pleasantly, and much to Estel’s surprise, remembered meeting him in Mirkwood.
“Though you were quite small then, you have grown a lot I see,” he said. Estel smiled, feeling slightly tongue-tied. Legolas then introduced the others with him. Herendil and the others had been surprised to see Estel at first, but then had remembered hearing about Lord Elrond raising an Edain child.
It was late afternoon when the hunt took off in earnest, down the valley their cliff overlooked. The horses stayed where they had been tethered while the elves and Estel set out on foot.
Estel had no luck that afternoon. Not only did he not catch any prey, but he also managed to scare away a deer Legolas was aiming for by snapping a twig underfoot. He was totally mortified at what he had done, and didn’t miss the look of disbelief one of the other sylvan elves tried unsuccessfully to hide, even as Legolas smilingly waved away his stammering apologies. Then as the day progressed, and the sun began to get hidden by clouds, and a slight wind rose up, he found himself feeling chilly again. As evening neared the mist rose up again from the river flowing through the valley below, and they soon headed back to their camp.
Estel drooped along at the end of the group, until he felt someone walk up alongside him. He tried to smile back at Legolas but couldn’t, as he found himself wallowing over his failure in the hunt. It seemed everyone had caught something except him.
“I’m sorry for scaring away the deer,” he said contritely.
“It’s all right,” Legolas told him, “We have enough for now, it is of no use hunting more than we require.”
The young man tried to smile back in response and say something but could only nod a little. It was getting cooler, and the damp mist was swirling its tendrils around him.
A little ahead, Elrohir and Elladan were arguing yet again, much to Herendil’s amusement. The other Rivendell elves having witnessed this earlier simply shook their heads in resignation and moved on. Estel could make out talk of aim and arrows, and then they yelled to Legolas to come arbitrate. Legolas moved forward to join them, and Estel followed a few steps behind, barely listening to the talk around him. He wrapped his cloak really tight now, and tried to stop himself shivering. His headache had returned, the damp air was annoying him, and the lightheaded feeling was returning slowly. Lost in a daze he just trudged on, his headache building up with greater ferocity, until he realised he couldn’t take it.
“Elrohir,” he called out, and then stopped short. The mist still swirled about but his companions were not visible. He ran ahead swiftly to catch up with them, until he realised suddenly that he was no longer on the trail. He had stumbled off it somehow.
He groaned silently, and trying to ignore the thumping in his head, thought about what he could do. He need to get to the clearing and he was somewhere on the cliffside it lay on. Or was he in the valley below? He realised he didn’t know, having simply followed his brothers for the last half hour or so, without really concentrating. He was irked with himself. So many errors in one day.
“Ada was right, I should have stayed back! And what will Elladan and Elrohir say?”
Elladan and Elrohir had much to say. It had taken a while to realise that estel was not with them. They had thought he was in the front with the other Rivendell elves, but on realizing that was not the case, they waited a while to see if he was coming along slowly, then backtracked a little and found no sign of him. All the while the mist was thickening, reminding them that some of the winter chill still remained in the air.
“We have to find him before nightfall,” Elrohir said worriedly, inwardly berating himself for not paying enough attention. Elladan was simply angry with himself.
Nightfall was still some time away. Enough light streamed into the forest. It was the sight of the tall tree in front of him that gave Estel the idea. If he could climb up it, he might get to see where he was, at least whether he was still in the valley or on the rise. And he should do it soon before the mist got thicker.
Halfway up, it no longer felt feel like such a good idea; he felt dizzy and nauseous, and his head still ached. He resolutely put out a hand to grab at an overhead branch, and missed. Losing his balance, Estel crashed through the branches of the tree.
“Oh no, not again!” he yelled.
The branches braced him for the fall, but still not enough to prevent the impact when he finally hit the ground, some five feet below the lowest branch.
Chapter 3: Nightfall
To Estel it seemed that he hit the ground almost immediately after he hit the lowest branch of the tree. He lay there dazed and winded, noting somewhere at the back of his mind, that his new cloak was out of commission now. In fact the whole of him felt that way. He could feel numerous stinging scrapes and cuts as he lay half awake on the soft brown mud, but he seemed to have suffered no serious injury.
When he opened his eyes, and lifted his head, everything seemed hazy. He blinked a few times but the haziness persisted, and then his tired mind told him it was just the mist that had enveloped the entire forest.
. . . must get up, he thought to himself, and raised himself on his hands, only to sink back facedown in exhaustion. After what seemed an eternity he raised himself up again, and somehow managed to prop himself against the tree he had tried to climb. Then he examined his surroundings carefully. He was off the track of course, but how far off he could not make out. His head hurt miserably now, rivets of pain shooting through his temples making it near impossible to think. He could not possibly try climbing any tree now, so he decided to explore his surroundings on foot. He carried no pack with him, as it lay with their things at the camp, not having anticipated that he’d get lost as easily as this. They had traveled light during the actual hunt, carrying two packs between the entire party, containing herbs, and a few other essential items.
He wrapped the torn cloak around himself, shivering in the slight chill, and trying to ignore the ever increasing pounding that assailed him, as he wondered how to find his way back to the camp. This was a part of the forest he had not often come to before, it was little higher than where they usually hunted, going on deeper into the Misty Mountains, that lay east of Rivendell He knew little of the immediate area around save that a few Edain settlements lay not far down the valley. But he needed to reach the cliff they had camped on, Elrohir and Elladan would be worried otherwise.
He sighed to himself as he walked around, peering through the haze, trying to locate some sign, any sign of how to proceed, while wishing his foster family wouldn’t worry about him, he was after all, mature by human standards. He was mortal, true, but then, all humans were. And they should get used to it, while he was in Rivendell, when he moved into the great big world . . .
Move? See the world? For a second Estel was confused, and wondered why he had been thinking that way. But, it was something he felt deep down . . . that he was not going to be in Imaldris all his life . . .
In his distraction he failed to notice where he was walking. He started suddenly as he found himself on a small ledge, a grassy outcropping poking out of the woods. The valley below curved westwards, and there, across the curve in the river, could be seen a sharp rock face in the distance looming up through the mist. The same one where the camp was located. The earlier detour from the trail had actually taken him back towards the valley they had hunted in. He could faintly hear the trundling sound of the fast flowing river as she skipped over the rocky terrain.
Sighing in relief, Estel decided it would be easier if he went this way where he could keep his destination in sight at all times, than through the forest. He edged his way carefull across rocks and boulders on his way down, trying simultaneously to see if a shorter route was available. He would have to spend much time going downhill and up this way. But he preferred it to the forest, although he did ruefully think that his tracking skills were in still in need of improvement.
As did his hunting skills, and his tree climbing skills, and . . . well, the great wide middle earth might just have to wait a while until he set out to explore it.
The light had almost entirely faded by the time Estel realised that he would soon be wandering in foggy pitch darkness. He would at least have to get off this rock-strewn hill by then. He hurried his way down, the sound of the river getting louder and louder as a soft breeze blew up from it, nimbly jumping on secure ground, avoiding the scree that would drag him sliding down. In the distance the cliff he wanted seemed to sway in the dark, as the breeze blew at the mists surrounding it, making it appear and disappear like a flickering flame. He could spend the night by the river, and then set off at first light for the camp. He just hoped his brothers did not do something foolhardy like search for him at night. He had no doubt they would search for him along their trail, but he knew he was not likely to find his way back there in time.
I hope they are not wandering in the forest at night, I hope Legolas and the others stop them from doing that . . . ’tis not safe . . .
Estel found himself worrying quite a great deal on that count. He did not want anyone getting harmed because of him.
A few more steps brought him to an outcropping hanging right above the river that flowed swiftly and noisily, barely two feet below it. Visibility was very low now, and he was careful to stay away from the edge.
It was the sound that came out of the forest that made him start.
The silence of the forest in twilight was interrupted by faint rustling sounds, as the elves swiftly went back the way they’d come, calling out all the time for their missing companion. Their voices rent through the air causing roosting birds to fly out of their sylvan retreats in annoyance. Lithely and quickly they traced their way back to where Estel had last been seen. Legolas had been speaking to him until Elrohir had called him in front.
Elladan and Legolas reached the spot soon, and then carefully examined the way upwards of that. The other elves had continued on to their camp, in case Estel made his way there somehow. For the same reason, Elrohir was with that company. Elladan stooped over the path looking for traces of Estel’s path in the hazy visibility, following it down the trail until they reached a spot where the tracks seemed to have veered off on a different route. He frowned angrily to himself, wishing he’d kept a closer watch on his younger brother, given the weather conditions around them.
“Elladan,” Legolas called out, “This way, I have found his tracks.”
Elladan relaxed slightly upon hearing that, at least they had some idea where his brother had disappeared off to. He hoped Estel was not in danger of any kind. He’d just recovered from illness, and when he’d pleaded with Elrond to be allowed on the hunt, they hadn’t had the heart to refuse.
“Estel!” he called out, not daring to be too loud, as he had no wish to disturb any lurking wild animal. They waded swiftly through the narrow foggy path that dropped off downhill from the track, neither liking the impeding darkness, for it hindered their activities. Both were alert, maintaining their keen sense of sight and hearing.
Legolas finally halted in front of a tall tree, frowning at the sight of broken branches and leaves lying against flattened grass. Elladan bent down and picked a small shred of cloth caught on the sharp edge of one of the broken sticks.
“It is from Estel’s new cloak,” he breathed sharply, glancing up at the tree, hoping his brother was still up on it somewhere but, despite the fog, he could make out it was not so. He glanced wildly around, hoping that somehow, from somewhere, Estel would appear grinning impishly.
“Estel!” he cried out again, while clinging to the tiny piece of cloth, “Legolas, do you see where he might have gone, he is not here.”
“Nay, my friend, it gets too dark,” Legolas murmured worriedly, as he saw the unhappy expression on Elladan’s face.
“I cannot leave him alone in the forest at night,” Elladan said, still kneeling on the ground.
“Elladan, we cannot hunt for him in the dark,” Legolas said quietly, continuing as he watched his friend’s face fill with despair, “We will have to wait till morning, don’t’ worry, Estel will be all right. He has learnt to survive in the wilderness from you after all. He may even be back in the camp by now.”
Up at the camp, there was no sign of Estel. Elrohir stood watching quietly, he had wanted to help search forhim, but Elladan had insisted he be at the camp, in case Estel made it back there by a different route. Elrohir had been waiting and watching the sun sink its slow and steady way down the sky, and the fog engulf the huge trees of the forest around them, until little could be seen of the valley they had been hunting in, but there was still no sign of Estel.
“Elrohir, would you like to have some food,” he turned to perceive Herendil standing behind him. The remaining elves had gathered together firewood, and were preparing food and checking their arrows, and knives and getting them ready for the next day’s hunting. The Rivendell elves had all assured him that it was no cause of worry. Estel would soon be back. But Elrohir just could not stop worrying.
“No, Herendil, I will wait for Legolas and Elladan, have you eaten?” he tried to reply normally, but the worry gnawing at his heart laced every word he uttered.
“Do not worry, from what I hear of Estel from the others, he will surely be back safe and sound. If he is still in the woods, Legolas can track him in no time,” the pride in Herendil’s voice was unmistakable. The young prince of Mirkwood was an accomplished archer and tracker, his prowess remarkable even in his realm where all elves learned these arts from the cradle.
Elrohir tried to smile in response but could not, and finally managed to simply mutter, “It is very kind of him to help.”
Herendil’s reply never reached his lips. It was cut off by a faint sound from near the valley, that made Elrohir’s heart leap to his mouth.
Elladan and Legolas both heard it as they neared the camp. Legolas had firmly refused to leave Elladan behind in the forest to search for Estel, and after much persuasion had convinced him that they would have to postpone the search till morning. He was himself very worried but there was little he could do. He felt helpless, and angered by the inadequacy. Like Elladan, he too was loathe to imagine what could happen to the young man. All he could do was hope and pray that he had made it back safely to camp, or at least wherever he was he was safe. At first light they would get up, and track him once again, now they knew where to start.
“Come, Estel will be asleep too by now, and you and I must do the same, for if we need to search for him tomorrow, we need to conserve our strength tonight.”
Elladan had nodded glumly, and followed the elven prince back, quietly until he heard the howls coming from near the valley.
Wolves . . .
“Elladan!” Elrohir came running over, he had noticed them coming up the hill, “Have you . . .?”
The howls rented through the air once again.
A loud howl, echoed by more of its ilk, and edging closer and closer to where Estel was standing. He stood tensely, his small knife in one hand ready to defend himself, but the fog made it difficult to see. He barely had enough time to react as he saw a huge shape looming towards him in the dark, a long shape with a snout, he moved back a step intending to attack, and found himself falling . . . falling . . . straight into the icy cold waters below. He had forgotten he was on a ledge
He went right in, surfacing up panting. The wolves stood on the ledge watching warily, deciding whether to jump in or not. They had little choice though, the water simply dragged its visitor along, with a force he had no strength to fight, smashing him up against the rocks that jutted out of it every now and then. He felt the rocks loom over his head, and heard a vicious crack as his temple connected with them, and then all was silence.
Chapter 4: The River Running By
“Wolves!” Elrohir gasped out, clutching his brother’s arm, “where we came from . . .”
“We must find Estel, I heard Ada speak to Glorfindel of a wolf pack here that was bothering the Edain village in the valley, ’tis not safe,” he pleaded with his brother, grasping his arm tightly, his eyes displaying fear and concern. The others from the hunt had come up too.
Elladan nodded, his heart heavy. Legolas watched his friends struck by the depth of worry that showed up in their expressions.
“I will come with you,” he announced, “You must not venture into the forest in this dark alone.”
“And I will come too,” Herendil’s voice came from behind him, “We will find him, do not worry.”
“Elladan, perhaps we can all split up and hunt for him,” suggested Vorondil, one of the elves from Rivendell.
“No, we must not all go,” Legolas stated, “Some must remain here.”
The swift current carried Estel further downstream, continually slamming him against the small rocks it flowed over, bruising him even more, but he felt nothing, not even the hand that plucked at the sleeve of his tunic, and dragged him half out of the water. He lay with his head and upper body out of the water, blood streaming from his forehead, his face covered in small cuts and bruises, as were his arms and in fact entire body.
“Is he alive?”
The spring equinox was an event most looked forward to by the inhabitants of the little village. They celebrated it every year, and marked the day with great joy and merrymaking.
Flowers would adorn every corner of the village and a great feast would be prepared for, and there would be singing and dancing all night long. And preparations for it always started weeks earlier. Girls went out with baskets and returned having filled them with flowers and leaves. Young men hunted in the forests nearby, but never going to far uphill, for that was where the fair folk lived, and fished in the stream, stocking up enough to feed the entire village twice over.
The hunts lasted till late in the evening each day, and on their return they always stopped at the tiny alehouse on the edge of the forest, just before entering the village. Each year before the festival, the inn stayed open late catering to men returning after a hard days’ work, and the sound of voices and laughter filtered out over the river.
Elrohir could make out the lights form the inn as he stood on a small ledge overlooking the river. It flowed straight below but then curved beyond a hill, in the distance just where the inn was situated.
They had retracted down the trail, carrying flaming torches in hand, trying to locate where Estel might have gone but even with the light from the stars they could not tell clearly under the tree covered canopy. The wolves had long since stopped howling and that in itself had helped calm the twins considerably. They now stood upon a little ledge they had come across on their way back, trying to spot if Estel might have camped out somewhere near the riverbed. But they could see no such sign. The stars flickered above and the faint moonlight spread over the river imparting it a silvery hue here and there. Crickets chirped away non-stop.
“Estel has never been this far from Rivendell before,” Elrohir stated softly, “We are almost near the Edain village.”
“Do you suppose he may have decided to spend the night there?” asked Legolas.
“I do not think he would. The folk there keep to themselves,” Elladan replied, “They do not even come uphill to hunt.”
Herendil nodded, “I have heard some of their folk do not take too kindly to our kind?”
‘Nay, there are always some like that everywhere,” Elladan sighed, “I do not see sign of Estel anywhere by the river but he would surely know better than to camp in the forest!”
“Unless he is hurt,” Elrohir’s voice was sharp tinged with worry. He was frustrated, at having found no sign of his brother, and waiting till morning would be pure torture. He had wanted to shout for the boy, but the others had stopped him reminding him of the wolves still around the forest somewhere.
“What is that?” Legolas said suddenly.
“The river brings strange gifts with it,” a laughing voice pounded through his aching head, as he regained some degree of his senses and felt someone hover over him. Someone like . . . like . . . A touch on his head made him moan in pain. He had actually wanted to scream, for the hand was fingering his head, for the myriad bumps that marked it, and none too gently.
“Take him inside, it will be warm, he’s wet,” another voice was speaking now.
“Yes, the river would make one wet, I suppose,” came the retort.
He felt someone bending over again, but could not concentrate. All he could feel was the shooting pain in his head, and the aches form other parts of his body. And he wondered why his legs felt so wet. Then someone slid a hand under his arms and began pulling him up. He moaned once again finding it near impossible to speak.
“Hush, little one, you will be alright, once we get you in front of the fire, and feed you something.”
Someone gathered him up in his arms, and began walking over rocks. He sighed as pain from every part of his body flooded into his senses.
“Here we are, child,” It seemed after almost an eternity, they had reached their destination. By now Estel was shivering slightly, as the cold air came in contact with his drenched state. To distract himself he wondered how he’d landed up outside so late into the night.
“What?” Elrohir demanded coming to stand by Legolas.
“I see something down by the river,” Legolas pointed down towards the riverbank below. The moon shone over it, imparting it with a glow that at any other time would have made Elrohir feel restful and at peace.
“A piece of cloth,” Elladan said, joining them.
“I will go down and see what it is,” Elrohir declared.
“No, you stay here, I am going down,” Elladan argued, but Elrohir had already picked one of the torches and set off down hill, the fire lighting his way over the rocks.
Elrohir literally ran downhill the flame lighting his way helping him pick his path, leaving the others no choice but to follow, forced to pick their way out slowly with the aid of the remaining torch.
He reached the riverbank soon and found the object, a tattered piece of cloth that he could not remember having seen at first. But when he recognised it as Estel’s new cloak on bringing the flame closer, the shock of it made him drop his torch down, and it fell into the water extinguishing itself. Elrohir ignored it and instead gave a shout to Elladan and the others who were still making their way down, panic lacing his voice, as he took in the condition of the cloth, torn and wet, and . . . stained?
“It is Estel’s cloak,” he yelled, the sound cutting through the stillness of the night, rising above the sounds of the forest.
The immediate response was one that froze the blood of all the listeners. A volley of howls went up from the trees around the bank, and within seconds Elrohir found himself surrounded by a pack of wolves, their hackles raised, and teeth bared, eyes glinting in the moonlight, as they approached closer and closer. He turned desperately towards Elladan and the others who were still some distance form him. He reached for his knife swiftly but not swift enough to avoid the leader of the pack who lunged for his throat, bringing him down immediately, saliva from the open mouth dripping onto his neck, claws scratching at his chest deep and painful, the sound of the growl filling up his ears, blocking out all other sound.
He was still wet but his surroundings seemed warm. He could make out light, and sounds, and heard the cackling of a fire nearby, its warmth creeping towards him, infusing him with it, and bringing some semblance of feeling back to his numb hands and feet. He opened his eyes slowly and realised he was lying on a stone floor, water from his soaked tunic and leggings puddling around him. As the feeling crept back into his body, his aches and pains made their presence felt, his head throbbed mercilessly, his shoulders ached, his back ached, in fact every part of his body hurt. He was afraid if he even so much as twitched, it would send more pain stabbing through him, but he was confused.
He had no idea where he was, or why he was where he was, or . . . his breathing became slightly hitched as he tried to remember, attracting someone’s attention.
“Well, child, are you awake then?” a dark haired man hovered over him, and more faces peered out from behind him.
“Give him some of that draught, it will wake him up,” came a voice.
“No, no, he needs tea made from those yellow flowers that grow by the river.”
“All he need is some food in him.”
The clamour of helpful suggestions confused him even more and he blinked at the faces peering over him.
“What . . .where . . .?” his voice came out croaked and scratchy, his throat paining as he drew the words out.
“We found you in the river child. This is no time for a swim,” joked someone.
“Hush,” the man hovering over him cautioned the others, “You should not be out so late, little one. Where have you come from? Your people must be worried.”
Where have I come from? My people. . .?
“What is your name little one? I cannot keep calling you little one.”
He looked up, confusion still miring his face, at the man who bent over him, and the other men surrounding him, as he lay there soaking wet on a cold stone floor, and when he spoke, slowly, his face had drained of what little colour it had left in it.
“My name . . .? I – I . . . do not know . . . I – my name . . .” his voice came out shrill and scared, pain and fright filling it in equal proportions.
Chapter 5: In an Inn
Legolas who was leading the others, stiffened at the sound and turned to his companions. The elves didn’t need the long wailing howls that ensued or their keen eyesight to tell them that Elrohir was in danger. Elladan’s face turned visibly pale in the sickly light, as they raced towards the riverbank where his twin lay battling a huge wolf. He rushed at one of the other members of the pack that stood by growling in anticipation.
Legolas had his bow out and was picking out his targets one by one, maiming at least three of them, Herendil, meanwhile, with a torch in hand, was making full use of it by thrusting it at the remainder of the pack. Having gotten rid of them, the two elves ran over to Elrohir who was still struggling beneath the leader of the pack, at the same time as Elladan who had felled two wolves meanwhile.
Their advent distracted the leader, and he turned towards them, the saliva coated, sharp canine teeth glinting in the moonlight, fur standing straight, and a low angry growl emanating from the reaches of its throat. It stood watching them warily, the rest of its pack either too injured to help or having run away into the forest.
The three elves stood literally frozen to the ground waiting to see the animal’s reaction, knives and bow ready to be used. Herendil’s torch had fallen to the ground and extinguished leaving them to fight in moonlight. When he did lunge at them, Elladan had his knife ready, he stuck it upward into its taut throat, killing it instantly.
“Elrohir!” Elladan did not even wait till the wolf fell to the ground lifeless, as soon a she struck it, he dragged out his knife and ran to his brother’s side.
Elrohir was lying on his back on the stones cropping out near the river, his tunic torn and bloodied, scratches covering chest, arms and face. A particularly deep gash glistened bright red diagonally across his chest. When Elladan reached him, he had been contemplating rising and making his way back to the camp, but the moment he even so much as lifted a finger, a wave of exhaustion hit him.
“Elrohir! Are you alright, oh Valar,” this when Elladan noticed his brother’s condition, “Come, we have to take you back,” he said firmly.
“Elladan?” Elrohir managed to grunt out before the full import of what he had been through stuck him.
Estel himself lay there shocked as he realised he could remember nothing at all, not his name, who he was, where he lived, and how he had ended up here on a cold stone floor, in front of a fire, surrounded by a large group of men, most of whom were holding great mugs of ale in their hands. He found himself involuntarily curling up as he realised everyone was staring at him, upon hearing his answer.
“You do not know?” the dark-haired man exclaimed, “How can you not know your own name?”
The booming sound of his voice sent a fresh jolt of pain through Estel’s furiously aching head, and he whimpered slightly drawing his knees further up against his chest, trying hard to remember – anything at all, almost panicking as his mind drew up a blank.
Some of his listeners were frowning now, he could hear some whispers in the background, and even in his weakened condition he realised that some of the looks being directed at him were not necessarily friendly.
The dark haired however, was not entirely unfriendly, for even now, he leaned forward and soothingly murmured, “He has hit his head, see . . . there! It must have affected him.”
Someone else thrust a mug into his hands, “Drink. It will help you keep warm,” he was told. He nearly spluttered out the contents as the fiery contents caught at his throat before he swallowed them.
“Well, what do we do with him now?” someone asked, “We know not who he is, or where he comes from, he is but a child, what business might he have abroad at this time?”
In the distance, the baying of a wolf pack resounded through the night, not the most welcome sound to those in the inn even though many were experienced hunters.
“It comes from the far end of the forest, perhaps the boy was running from them,” suggested another patron.
“Nay, it comes from the upper reaches of the river, where they say the fair folk dwell,” another grunted out, “even one so young would not be fool enough to enter there.”
“They say the fair folk use strange means to keep us out,” came a knowing whisper from a very drunk man in a far corner.
“He must have been traveling, he is not of these parts, see his clothes, the bridge across the river does go far west and south, does it not?” someone suggested dubiously, effectively cutting off the drunk’s story about the fair creatures of the forests, “Perhaps we should take him to the village?”
“And who will keep him there?” the dark man inquired, “If he knew of his people, I would take him to rejoin them, but if not, where will he be kept until something is learnt of him? And if he is indeed of traveling stock, who knows how long that will take?”
One by one murmurs arose, and Estel lay by quietly, his mind still in a jumble, trying to process varied bits of information through his truly exhausted brain. He had managed to sit up now, and drag himself nearer to the fire, trying to ignore the water that still clung to his clothes and hair, although it seemed to be steaming off now. He sat with his legs drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them, chin resting on his knees, trying to hug the chill away. The drink he had been given had helped warm him, but not entirely. The various aches all over his body screamed for attention, and try as he might he could not ignore them.
“He can stay here,” the voice came from behind the counter, where a huge red-headed man stood polishing empty mugs, “I can do with some help around here anyway.”
Estel raised his head sharply at that, taking in the sight of the thickset man, with red hair and stubble on his chin, pouring wine from a flagon into a glass for one of his customers.
“Aye, he is to work for you, is it?” the dark man rubbed his chin thoughtfully, but then said nothing further.
“Ask the boy?” came a suggestion.
Estel stared back at the room through wide grey eyes, slightly glazed, his lower lip trembling as he tried in his tiredness to hold back the tears that threatened to flow down his cheeks any moment now.
“He has nowhere else to go, tonight at any rate,” the red haired man said with an air of finality as Estel continued to stare dumbly at them, “he can stay here till we hear news of him, and work in return for food and room.”
Back in the camp, Elladan helped his brother take off his tunic and lie on a roll of bedding. They had had to help him back to camp, for he seemed in much pain not just from the scratches but also from falling on his back on the sharp rocks near the river. He had hit both his back as well as his head hard in the process.
The flap to the tent shifted as Legolas entered with a small basin of water and some cloths. Elladan had already laid out the herbs from his pouch, and now that he had managed to get Elrohir settled on the bed, he and Legolas set to the task of cleaning out the myriad scratches. In the light imparted by the flame inside the tent, they seemed uglier still, and Elrohir continually bit his lip, as his injuries were thoroughly cleaned of grime. Elladan then bandaged up his chest before helping him gently up to examine his back where the sharp edges had formed bruises. He prodded around at them and the slight knot on Elrohir’s head, much to his intense discomfort, before declaring that it was not very serious. They helped him back into his tunic and laid him back down again, covering him with a thick coverlet.
“What of Estel?” Elrohir asked finally. Elladan had enjoined him not to speak while he was dressing his wounds.
“We cannot do anything till morning,” Elladan snapped, “I should never have agreed to searching right now, you could have been seriously hurt, you are lucky to get away relatively unhurt! It is my fault, I should have waited for the morn to break.”
“”Tis not your fault,” Elrohir assured him gruffly, “I should have been more alert, it bodes ill for an elf to be caught unawares as I was. But, Estel.. .”
“Elladan is correct,” Legolas interposed, “You must wait till morning, we can ill afford a grievous accident. We will arise with the first rays of the sun, and leave immediately. And we can send for more help from Rivendell if need be, in hunting for Estel.”
“Ada . . ” Elrohir groaned, and Elladan concurred silently, wondering how they’d tell the elf lord they’d lost their foster brother in the woods.
Chapter 6: Morning
“And you can tell them at the village to look out for anyone who comes asking for a child,” the innkeeper concluded.
“Aye, you do that, but should he not take off those wet clothes first,” one of the men suggested, as Estel hugged himself tighter, and bit his lower lip tremulously.
“They are torn, he will need new clothes,” the dark man said.
The innkeeper looked at Estel contemplatively, “My son is bigger than him and the only child here his size is my daughter, but, let me see, I will find something. Come.” He beckoned Estel towards a small wooden door to one side.
Estel looked up slowly, his mind still in a whirl, unsure of what he should do, and scared. He had been trying to get his mind to think, think anything that would tell him something. But all he drew was a blank. All he knew was that he was tired, he hurt all over, and he was cold. Try as he might, he could remember nothing at all. He felt a wave of panic rise up in him, as the reality of his situation was borne to him.
He could hear snatches of conversation around him.
“Perhaps an unwanted child?”
“Now none can say I caught naught in the river.”
“The clothes are strange indeed.”
“Mayhap he was attacked by the fair folk. They say the fair folk use strange means to keep us out.”
“Come along now,” the innkeeper called out from the door.
He stood up, stumbling on hands and knees, tears falling unchecked, his breath coming out in short painful rasps, his mind screaming at him to remember. The room was foggy now, strange smells collided with each other to make him feel nauseous, and the voices around him were just a low drone in the distance. The floor looked a grayish blur as it rushed up to meet him.
Elrond stood at the balcony of his room listening to the sounds of the still night, watching the moon bathe the outwardly peaceful scenario with her light. He himself did not feel equally at peace, but could think of no reason for the turmoil that gnawed him, which only served to intensify it.
It was well into the night before he gave a heavy sigh and returned to his chamber.
Dawn broke over the camp slowly lightening the sky, as the forest came alive with the sounds of birds. Elladan stirred slightly when he felt an insistent tugging at his sleeve. He awoke stretching his tired muscles, cramped from spending the whole night in a sitting position by his brother.
Elrohir! He thought with a start, only to notice his twin watching him patiently, from where he lay, one hand on the sleeve of Elladan’s tunic.
“Did you spend all night in such an uncomfortable position?” Elrohir asked severely.
Elladan’s reply was cut short by Herendil’s entry into their tent.
“Ah, you are awake,” the elf stated, “Elrohir, how do you feel?”
“I shall be fine, Herendil,” Elrohir stated, “When do we leave?”
“As soon as we have broken our fast. The light is good outside.”
After a short quick meal, the elves divided into two groups, one to search the forest again, and the other to search by the riverside. They planned to search all morning, and then make haste and return to Rivendell.
“Should we not send someone to the Edain village?” one of the elves from Rivendell asked suddenly. Most of his companions frowned at that.
“He may have spent the night there if he was by the riverside,” Elladan acknowledged.
“It is too far downriver,” Herendil argued, “He could not have walked that far.”
“But, if he did?” Legolas spoke up, “We should find out.”
“If he did, it will not be good,” sighed another Rivendell elf, “We hear they do not like those of our ilk.”
“Oh Ravion,” came an exasperated response from the first elf, “Estel is not of our ilk!”
“Not by looks,” he amended hastily as Elrohir shot him a thunderous look, “they will not turn upon him -” he continued lamely before giving up entirely as Elrohir continued bestowing his unrelenting glare upon him.
“That is enough!” Elladan interposed hastily, “We do not have the time for all this. Let us search near here first; if there is no sign of Estel after that, we can go to the Edain village. If need be we will disguise ourselves as men.”
The riverbank looked mellow and quiet under the early morning light, the only signs of the past night’s violence were the deep scuffmarks in the ground. The twins together with Legolas and Herendil had decided to search the riverside, near the spot Elrohir had found Estel’s cloak.
“He may have decided to take shelter in a cave or some such thing,” Elladan had declared.
“Or gone for a swim,” Elrohir muttered, “What other reason could there be to discard the cloak here?”
“Perhaps he fell in,” Herendil suggested casually, causing Elrohir to glare at him.
“We should take into account all possibilities,” Herendil insisted, “He may easily have fallen in, and reached the other side, or may have swum out downstream. We need to search everywhere along the river.”
“Estel would not fall in,” Elrohir protested, worry gnawing at his heart at the thought of searching all along the river, and on both sides, without guarantee of finding his younger brother.
“Herendil is right,” Elladan said softly, “and we cannot tell how Estel is. He may be hurt and may need our help. We need to search downriver too.”
“If we had searched last night then he would not have gotten far,” Elrohir said, his eyes glistening in the sun, as he felt a twinge of pain from the healing injuries on his chest and back.
“Elrohir, we could not have searched last night!” Elladan responded exasperatedly.
“‘Tis my fault!” Elrohir replied bitterly, “If I had not been attacked by the wolves, we could have continued searching. I should not have shouted as I did last night. We promised Ada we would look after Estel.”
“Elrohir, we would never have found this last night,” Legolas said abruptly, coming up to the twins. He had been walking around looking about the area while they had been arguing, Elladan thought guiltily.
“What have you found?” he asked.
Legolas pointed to a small outcropping a little way upriver, “There were signs of wolves, and at least one human having been there,” he explained.
“He looks like a horse! I think he’s ugly. And look, he’s wearing such big clothes, has he none of his own?” the shrill voice cut through the Estel’s weary mind as he woke up suddenly when the first rays of the sun fell through the window.
“What is his name?” demanded another voice, as Estel contemplated opening his eyes, slowly.
“He does not know!” the first voice rang out again sounding particularly triumphant at this inability of Estel’s, “Father says we should give him a name. I think I will name him after one of the horses.”
“How can he not know his own name?” came the second voice.
Estel stiffened slightly, as he remembered waking up at the inn the night before, but nothing before that. Nothing at all. He felt moisture pricking at his closed eyes, and opened them slightly, allowing a tear to roll down his cheek. He could make out two figures leaning over him.
“He’s crying! Like a girl!” Came a disgusted yell from one of the figures.
Chapter 7: Searching for Hope
Estel gulped, unable to stop the flow of tears, but wanting to. He was in a stranger’s house, with no memory of who he was or how he had come here. He lifted a hand to wipe his face, and winced as coarse cloth razed against his face. When he opened his eyes, he saw a boy and girl standing in front of him, the boy seemed his age but was larger in size, while the girl looked a little younger, although the scorn and contempt evident on her face made her look older For the briefest of seconds Estel felt a strange sense of having been through this earlier, derision in others’ faces and voices aimed at him. He was so desperate he even tried to grasp at that obviously unhappy thought but it simply slipped away leaving him as before. The two continued to stare interestedly at him.
Estel sniffed and pushing away a blanket attempted to sit up. He cursorily noted the nightshirt he was wearing. It probably belonged to the boy. At his age Estel was still growing, and was still a little gangly and awkward, making the shirt hang on him limply.
He swung his legs off the bed and stared back at his two onlookers.
“H-hello,” he said a little shyly, unsure of what else to say or do.
“Poof, you smell awful,” that was the girl, “Do you not take baths where you come from?”
“He does not know where he comes from,” the boy said spitefully.
Estel bit his lip, feeling his eyes stinging up again. He rubbed his hand over his eyes, as he felt the weariness gnawing at him. He had fainted from sheer exhaustion the night before, and still felt the after-effects, and the other ailments plaguing his body had still not gone. Niggling aches abounded throughout his body, and he felt slightly feverish.
A shout from afar made the other two turn away.
“Father is calling us, we should go and tell him he’s awake,” the boy said, walking towards the door.
“Estel! And wolves?” Elrohir nearly howled out.
“Yes, but I do not think he was harmed,” Legolas said and then paused slightly trying to phrase his words carefully.
Elladan quirked an eyebrow upwards.
“There is no sign of anyone having been dragged away or of any blood,” Legolas said uneasily, “I do think he managed to escape.”
“Escape to where?”
Elladan sighed, “We did come to search along the river, did we not? Let us do that.”
Estel sat down at the wooden table shyly. The tall boy had come to call him to eat and had showed him to a small room with a low roof where a huge red-haired man and the girl he’d see earlier sat eating bread and some sort of cheese. He was still dressed in the clothes he had worn the night before, though he ahd mentioned to wash his face and hands. He had scratches all over him, and they had stung as he had applied the ice cold water.
“Eat,” the man opposite commanded. Estel remembered him from the night before and giving him a small smile of gratitude, picked up a chunk of bread and bit into it uncertainly. He realised he was quite hungry and quickly wolfed down more bread and some cheese.
“You can stay here awhile,” the man told him but it is a busy place and there is much work to be done, so you will have to help. My name is Halen, and this is my little Tira and my son Mirel.”
Estel nodded at them in greeting, his mouth full of food.
“Do you remember nothing at all?” the man asked.
Estel’s eyes clouded over and he shook his head unhappily.
Another shake of the head.
“We have a healer in the village but even he can do naught about this. You will have to wait and see.”
“What do we call him?” that came from the boy, who was glaring at Estel now
“Bregil,” came Tira’s voice.
The twins, Legolas and Herendil spent a fruitless morning searching for signs of the young man, and finding none. They walked along a long stretch of the river and at a point where it narrowed down they even crossed it and searched the other side.
When the time came to meet up with the other group, it was with a heavy heart that the four elves returned to the assigned meeting spot.
One look at the faces of the other elves when they too turned up, was enough to tell them the bad news.
“We searched everywhere, Elladan,” Ravion said softly, and saw no more signs in the forest than were seen yesterday, “He must be near the river.”
Elladan shook his head, “No he is not near the river, we found no traces of him there.”
“Elladan, we must search downriver,” Herendil urged.
“I think we should return to Rivendell and inform Lord Elrond,” Ravion said tersely.
“Surely we should not worry Lord Elrond unnecessarily,” another elf said nervously.
“Unnecessarily!” Ravion snorted.
“Well, Ravion, I think you should take the others back with you and tell Ada, and return with a fresh search party, most of you are very tired, I know. We had a long day yesterday,” Elrohir said.
“I should tell Lord Elrond?” Ravion demanded, flustered, “but what about you?”
“We will search downriver with Legolas and Herendil.”
“But I think it would be better if you were to tell Lord Elrond the news.”
“No! We will not abandon Estel like this!” Elrohir said firmly, although his unspoken thoughts were clear to everyone. Facing his father with the news that his foster son seemed to have vanished off the face of the forest floor did not seem to be up to his capabilities at that moment.
“Elrohir, you are injured, you should return too,” Ravion argued sweetly, as the other elves looked on a little bemusedly, all except Elladan who looked very angry and Legolas who was shaking his head despairingly.
“We are wasting time,” Herendil cut in finally.
“That is decided then, Ravion hurry,” Elrohir declared firmly.
“Elladan…” Ravion began, “I will go, but surely you can see it is folly for Elrohir to not come home and get treated?”
“Ravion is right,” Legolas said, ignoring the murderous glare from his friend, “Elrohir should get his injuries seen to.”
Elrohir’s voice cut in ominously, “We have already wasted too much time, Estel could be lying somewhere hurt, and all everyone cares about is who should do what. Well, you can all do as you please but I leave now to find Estel.” He bent down slowly and gathered up his pack from the ground.
Elladan looked at his twin’s set face and then shook his head at Ravion unhappily, “If I send him back, he will only fret more, and he will refuse to talk to me for many days after this. I will look after him, and it would help if you do not let my father know the extent of his injuries. Go now my friend.”
Elrohir shot him a grateful look, but every other elf there was blatant in his disapproval.
Elrond stepped out into his balcony for possibly the twentieth time that day. For some reason his feet kept taking him there, and he had a disquieting feeling that the reason would not be one he would like.
Elladan sighed as he picked his way through the long grass growing on the raised banks of the river. Rushes grew in wild abandon all over, and from somewhere far in the distance came the crisp air carried with it the scent of heather. It was a beautiful day, weather-wise. But he had other things on his mind than that.
“Ada will not like it that we did not return with Ravion and the others,” Elrohir commented.
“Is that not why you insisted Ravion go?” Herendil remarked.
Elrohir scowled at him, but Legolas nodded, “I would rather return to Lord Elrond with Estel than with news that he is lost.”
“Yes, he will be less angry with Ravion than he would have been with us,” Elrohir said.
“But will he not be angrier that we did not give him the news ourselves?” Herendil asked.
“Yes,” Elladan replied tersely, “But let us find Estel and then worry of that.”
“That is the village over there,” Elladan pointed to the distance where the river curved away into a small valley, where they could see huts and tenements. Some way ahead, before the river curved stood a small building all on its own, smoke rising form its chimneys.
Legolas sighed, “I do not like to do it, but if need be we will have to go there.”
“Two will go, and the other two will search nearby then,” Elladan declared.
Estel tugged at the bucket of water as he pulled it in to the stables. Halen had gone down to the village to get provisions and to see if any inquiries had come for Estel. He was alone in the inn with Mirel and Tira. And he did not like it at all. He sensed they did not like him when he learnt why he was being called Bregil.
“Bregil is the smith’s donkey,” Tira told him, “you look like him.”
Estel simply gritted his teeth at that. He found the two of them very unpleasant, their father was a little gruff but these two were really rude. They made sure to tell him they did not welcome him, for strangers were not welcome in their village, but as their father owned the inn, he often had to put them up. And Estel was a stranger and wore different clothes, and his hair looked different so the sooner he left, the better.
Halen had told him to help with the chores, and Estel had agreed. So, Mirel had asked him to help them clean the house and stables. But help seemed to mean that Mirel and Tira sat on a stone bench near the stables and made him do the cleaning. Mirel made him get at least ten buckets of water which he splashed all over the tiny stable. And he had tripped and fallen twice each time with Tira standing nearby. He had had to go back each time of course.
When the floor inside and around the small structure seemed to be ankle deep in water, he gave him a cloth and made him wipe it all off. Estel had spent much time on his hands and knees mopping up the water, the coldness of it seeping through to his bones, and making him feel worse, seething inwardly as Tira kept telling him his parents had abandoned him.
“I think your parents left you and went away!” she said decidedly.
“They did not leave me,” Estel hissed, his head was hurting him again, and his back felt as if on fire.
“Then where are they? They threw you into the river.”
“Why should they? I am old enough for them to let me leave my house.”
“You don’t know how old you are! I can see why you have been abandoned, I think you are very annoying.”
Then she got him to mop up the whole house, while she flicked desultorily with a dust cloth over various objects, and then went out to enjoy what brother and sister had termed glorious weather. Estel could not comment, he’d been inside cleaning for the most part, feeling chilly despite the fact that the sun shone brightly down.
“Watch him carefully,” Mirel’s remarks floated in from outside through the window, as Estel cleaned the hearth in the huge fireplace he’d lain in front of the night before.
Estel sat up; arching his aching back, wondering what Mirel was talking about.
“I think he is just pretending to remember nothing. It must be a ruse, he is trying to trick us and thieve from us.”
He was up and running into the next room before he’d even realised it.
“I am not a thief!” he yelled at Mirel.
“Yes, you are, I don’t believe you!”
Estel stiffened and clenched his hands by his side tightly, feeling rage and frustration welling up inside him coupled with unhappiness. He glared back at Mirel.
“I am not a liar!” And with that he rushed at the larger boy, knocking him down to the ground. They rolled over kicking and punching at each other. Estel felt his bruised body protest anew, as old bruises hit hard surfaces. Tira stood by screaming at him to stop and at Mirel to hit him harder.
He somehow gathered up the energy to give Mirel a big shove and pushed him aside, at the same time punching him on the face. Mirel fell against the stone bench and when he straightened up he had a thin cut across his forehead, and a murderous look on his face.
“I knew it, you are a little thief, ” he yelled, and grabbed a staff left leaning against the stable door.
“Tira, catch him!” he yelled, as he saw Estel move.
Estel backed away, confused, shivering and almost sobbing, his head pounding, his eyes burning. And then he ran, away towards the woods behind the house. He knew he would be safe there for the trees would protect him. He did not know how he knew but he did.
“Who will go to the village and who will search here,” Legolas asked his friends as they neared the bend in the river.
Chapter 8: The Hunters and The Hunted
The four elves stood uncertainly by the river’s edge and looked at each other.
“Let us cross the river and decide,” Elrohir suggested, “And we must do something about our appearance, even those who search near the village. I do not wish to indulge in petty arguing with humans and waste time.”
“Well, let us cross near the village then, that is just some small inn for hunters and travelers,” Elladan said, leading them forward towards the bend where a small stone bridge provided a crossing for them. They walked quietly through the forests between the inn and the village until they came to a small hut, in a clearing on a slope at the edge of the woods. Elladan signaled them to stop as they peered around the trees. Some way ahead of the hut, in the valley below, the village was spread out, smoke rising out of chimneys, a few people moving around or just basking in the sun shining down through the clouds. It looked very peaceful.
Elrohir seated himself on a large rock, with a deliberate casualness that did not go unnoticed. His twin made as if to move towards him but then stopped.
“Elrohir and I will go into the village,” Elladan stated as the others looked at him expectantly.
Legolas frowned as if to object, but stopped as Elladan held up his hand, “We are more comfortable with the local dialect,” he explained, “we have dealt with them earlier, when the they were better disposed towards our kind.”
Legolas looked towards Elrohir pursing his lips in displeasure, even as the other twin made to rise from his perch.
“I will be more comfortable if Elrohir goes with me,” the elder twin stated emphatically, hoping Legolas would understand.
Legolas shrugged, and then suddenly said, “You must cover yourself with your cloaks, even if the sun is out.”
“But even the cloaks are undoubtedly of elvish material,” Herendil pointed out, “Is it really that unsafe for our people in that village?”
“I am not sure, perhaps not unsafe but they may become unhelpful, and it is not wise to tarry any longer in our search,” Elrohir replied, grimacing slightly as he stretched himself.
“But your clothes will tell them you are elves,” Legolas said in agreement, with his kinsman.
“Then we will have to borrow a few of Edain make,” Elrohir pointed towards the washing hung outside the small hut.
“That is thievery,” Herendil protested.
“No,” Elrohir argued, “We will borrow some clothes and return them, it is not thievery, it is just a loan. Quickly now while there is no one around,” he urged them towards the hut.
“Stay here,” Elladan commanded, “I will get a few clothes and return.”
He slunk off quietly towards the washing line, while the others waited expectantly. Herendil leaned back against a tree muttering something about young blood, a little unfairly Elrohir felt given that he was only about a hundred years elder to him and his twin.
Elladan hurried back, his arms full of clothes that he dumped at their feet. Elrohir bent to pick them up, and brushed the mud off the freshly washed clothes frowning at his brother as he did so, “They have just been washed!”
Estel ran uphill through the trees, making sure he knew which direction the river lay in, so he would not lose his bearings. He did not stop running until he was sure no one had followed him into the woods. And then he slumped to the ground; tears of frustration pouring down his cheeks. He hugged himself tight, in a bid to feel warm, and tried desperately to ignore the pounding in his head. He felt lost, completely and utterly lost.
Not only did he know nothing of himself, he had managed to insult the same people who had been hospitable enough to let him stay with them awhile. He could not even go back there after hitting Mirel. And he had nowhere else to go.
If only he could remember something, anything at all. He laid his head on his knees, and shutting his eyes tight, tried hard to think, to remember. But all he found himself thinking of was how he had been floating in the icy cold river and then pulled out. The thought of the cold water made him feel chillier, and he wondered if he should move out from under the trees towards the river where the sun seemed to be shining. But those two children might be there. And he did not want to meet them again. He was afraid he might lose his temper again, and he was feeling too tired to get into another fight.
He sniffed loudly, and more tears traced their way down his cheeks. Then he wondered what he should do next. He could not go back to the inn, or the village the children spoke of. What if he went the other way, upstream? But that was where strange creatures were said to delve. Elves, with magical powers, they never died, and they were all powerful.
Maybe they will know who I am then, he thought unhappily, But, what if they are not helpful?
So what? He argued with himself, you have no other option anyway. Either you wander here, lost or you wander there, lost.
But what if someone comes searching for me here? But if anyone had to come they would have come by now? But what if they got delayed? Delayed by what?
Conflicting thoughts rushed in a jumble around Estel’s aching head, and he sobbed louder, still sitting curled up on the cold wet floor.
He hated this forest, he decided, he would get out of these woods, where it was dark and cold and go downriver. He was sure his people, whoever they were had gone downriver. That was the only logical course. After all he was not an elf, so what work could his people have had upriver?
He thought he heard voices and looked up warily wondering if Tira had found him after all, and come to take him back. Maybe he should go back, at least he would have a roof over his head.
But it was not Tira. He watched puzzled, as a group of four walked noiselessly through the trees some way downhill. He saw them stop at the clearing near a hut that he had not seen earlier. And then he realised in shock as he stared at the golden hair of two of them, that they were elves. Shafts of sunlight fell on their long hair, lightening it and making it shine. Even their skin seemed to glow every time the sun fell on them. And they were attired very differently from Mirel and Tira.
He watched on curiously as one of the dark haired ones slipped away through the trees flitting in and out swiftly, so that he was barely visible to the eye. One of the blonde elves pulled an arrow out of his quiver and tested its balance. The other two seemed to be waiting for something or someone. Nervously, he looked around a little, wondering if they had seen him.
Then the first elf suddenly re-appeared in front of them, and Estel rubbed his eyes wondering where he had come from. It was almost as if he had dropped out of a tree, and he was holding a bundle in his arms. Estel shivered again as a soft breeze blew through the trees. The little sunlight filtering in through the treetops vanished as a cloud covered the sun, and he found himself feeling a little scared.
He saw one of the heads below turn upward towards his section of the forest and promptly scrambled away, his heart beating in his mouth, as he hoped and prayed they had not seen him. Whatever was he thinking of? He must have been a fool to even think of going near magical creatures like that. Where should he go? Perhaps he should climb a tree and see whether there was any other way out.
He stepped towards the nearest tree, intending to climb it, but then found himself seized by some irrational impulse, an almost fear-like quality that prevented him from trying to get onto it. Through the constant haze of pain, his head told him not to even think of climbing the tree. And he found himself sobbing once again at what seemed like cowardice on his part. Then he collected himself and told himself it was his body reacting, because it would be stupid to try and climb a tree at a time like this when his head ached mercilessly, and the rest of his muscles screamed, each little ache combining together to reach a crescendo of pain the drummed on and on.
He sat down once again, and wondered what to do. It seemed all directions were perilous now. If it was not fair folk everywhere in the forest, it was horrible people who were rude and obnoxious to him.
“So, Legolas, you and Herendil search here,” Elladan said, pulling on a loose, heavy tunic over his lighter clothes, and clasping a thick cloak around himself, pulling up the hood to cover his long hair and ears, and leave most of his face in a shadow. He kept the rest of his clothes on, as they were the usual huntsman’s garb.
“Yes, we will do that,” Herendil said looking around his surroundings, “We will work our way uphill and look around and meet you here, upon return?”
“Yes,” Elladan agreed.
Their deliberations were interrupted by a shout from Elrohir who seemed to be arguing with Legolas over something.
“I will not wear this, it is women’s clothing,” he shouted, his face going red.
“No, it is not,” Legolas urged, holding up a blue shirt.
“Yes, it is, look at those ribbons.”
Elladan and Herendil watched as Elrohir tugged at a ribbon around the neck of the blouse.
“It is only a blouse,” Legolas said, “And it is almost as long as your tunic, just a tad shorter.”
“It is a full hand shorter than my tonic,” Elrohir shouted, “Elladan, I cannot wear this, it has ribbons, and it is blue. Let Legolas wear it, it will suit his eyes,” he glared at the prince from Mirkwood who was now laughing openly.
“And it will suit his pretty hair, he can use the ribbon to tie it,” he added spitefully, as Legolas self-consciously ran a hand through his golden tresses, and growled in anger at the angry twin.
“I do not need it, you are the one entering the village,” he retorted, “You wanted to go to the village, you wear it, and the colour suits you too!”
“Stop it,” Elladan said, “stop fighting like children over such trivialities. Elrohir, wear that tunic, you can cover it with this cloak,” he held up a faded green cloak, and Elrohir held it alongside the bright blue blouse and compared them his features curling in disapproval.
“I will not wear a girl’s clothes,” he stated emphatically.
“Elrohir!” the elder twin found his patience wearing thin, and moved forward to help Legolas push his brother into the blue cloth.
“There it looks just fine,” Legolas said half-heartedly, stepping back to admire the effort, when they were done, “You can tuck those ribbons through the neck, and wrap your cloak tightly around you and none shall realise.”
Elrohir glared at him, and recited a series of words in common tongue that Elrond would never have guessed he knew. He wrapped the huge thick cloak around himself, and joined Elladan who was all set to leave.
“Do not stay long in there,” Legolas cautioned, “It would have been preferable if you had not to go in broad daylight.”
“Aye, but the sun is behind clouds now, and they seem dark, it may rain later, which portends well for us.”
“But not for Estel, if he is outside,” Elrohir snapped out.
“Not for Estel,” Elladan agreed, “Come, let us hurry and finish our work there before it begins to rain and we are forced to seek shelter there.”
“Do not spend too much unnecessary time there,” Legolas cautioned worriedly, “And at the smallest sign that they may be antagonistic, run!”
“Yes, Legolas, we will,” Elrohir replied, still annoyed about the other’s lack of support during the blouse episode. The ribbons tucked in were tickling him.
Legolas nodded worriedly. Mirkwood was on the other side of the high Misty Mountains from Rivendell, and he had had fewer dealings with the Edain than the twins had. Except Estel, of course, but Estel was as good as an elf, being raised by them, and surrounded by them.
“Go safely, my friends,” he said as they separated.
Estel stumbled along through the woods, noticing that it was getting progressively darker as the clouds began covering the sky. It looked like rain, and just the thought wearied him. He thought he was striking a course along the arm of the river that the village stood on. Then he’d cross over much ahead, and cut back to the river he had been found in, and follow its other arm down. It would be long winded but hat way he would avoid both elves and humans. So intent was he in thought that he did not hear someone approach behind him.
Not that he was entirely to blame since whoever it was, moved noiselessly along, and one would need the ears of an elf to hear the sound, until too late.
Elrond sighed as he found himself heading for his balcony yet again. This was the fifth time since he’d woken up early in the morning that he had found himself there. His eyes suddenly narrowed as he saw the party ride in at great speed, and he scrutinized them in concern, that was further mitigated as he noted the absentees. All three of his sons, and Prince Legolas of Mirkwood, whom he knew would have been present given that the party consisted of a few, weary sylvan elves, who must have spent more than a few days reaching the camp from Mirkwood.
He waited calmly as Ravion approached him, trepidation clearly written in the greenish-grey eyes.
Elladan pulled the cloak closer, and waited for Elrohir to catch up. He was growing increasingly concerned as Elrohir’s movements became progressively more sluggish. He knew his brother needed rest, which was why he decided they should stay together. The likelihood of Elrohir listening to him was higher than of him listening to Legolas or Herendil, and their little bickering were things he could do without while he was still worried about Estel, not to mention about Elrohir’s injuries, which were obviously still healing, and his father. Ada would definitely not like to hear of all that had happened.
“Are you all right,” he asked his twin who was looking slightly winded now.
Elrohir nodded and he decided not to push it further, or another argument might result. He decided he would simply keep a close ye on his twin. The wounds had seemed to be healing in the morning, but one could never tell, what may happen if Elrohir over-exerted himself.
They entered the village just as another cloud flitted in. there was not a patch of blue to be seen now, a stark contrast to the beautiful sky barely a few hours earlier.
Chapter 9: An Enchanted Forest
“Lord Elrond,” Ravion paused irresolutely. Elrond continued to wait patiently for him to regain his composure which served somewhat to allay the elf, and he plunged into a concise narrative of all that had befallen the hunting party, marveling at the way the lord of Imaldris continued to maintain his stoicism, merely cocking his head a little at the more alarming bits that he had to convey, not even questioning his assurance that Elrohir had come out of a wolf attack almost unscathed.
“I see,” Elrond stated flatly when he had finished, “Thank you, Ravion. You must be tired. Go and get some rest now, I will have someone see to rooms for our guests, until then will you take them along with you so that they may wash up, and eat something if they desire?”
“But would you not like us to go back and help them search for Estel. We returned to get help,” Ravion asked, worriedly.
“Help will reach them, but you are tired, as are the others. A fresh party will go out, Ravion. Now go and get some rest,” Elrond told him, raising a hand to forestall any argument.
Ravion nodded tersely, “Very well, we will let them know where we camped out, and the direction the others have gone in.”
Elrond nodded, “I will call for you when they are ready to depart,” he assured the younger elf.
Under a grey sky, the little village looked strangely forbidding. The hills that rose up on either side of it seemed to loom over it now, adding to the spectre of gloom that suddenly seemed to descend with the disappearance of the sun behind the clouds. Or so it seemed to the twins as they wrapped their cloaks tighter, in response to the gust of wind that was blowing dried leaves across the empty cobbled street that ran through the settlement. Little sign of movement was visible, although the sound of windows being clattered shut would sporadically reach their ears. That the denizens of the village expected rain was only too obvious. Bright clumps of gaily coloured flowers at sporadic intervals lent a touch of incongruity to the proceedings, serving as a testimony to the fact that spring was in the air.
“Where do we search?” Elrohir muttered, “It has been much time since we last visited this place. Plenty has changed. I wonder if Estel actually did come here?”
“If there is no sign of him along the river, it can only mean he must have come here to spend the night. Let us ask somebody if they have seen him around.”
“Anyone we come across,” Elladan retorted, as he looked about for any sign of movement.
“I see no one outside. Do they always run from a little rain like this, I wonder?” Elrohir mused.
“This wind does not portend a little rain, Elrohir, and we are in a valley,” Elladan replied abstractedly. He was gazing in the opposite direction towards the mountains to their left, completing somewhat of a circle around the tiny settlement, funneling in the clouds, “I fear the hills surrounding this village block the low-lying clouds, and hold them in the valley, so that the rain when it falls will be heavy.”
“They told us spring had arrived,” Elrohir grumbled.
“There is an inn there,” Elladan pointed out, “We will surely find people there.”
“Is not one inn enough for this village? ” Elrohir pulled his cloak closer around him, “Cover yourself well, Elladan, let us not reveal ourselves until we know the lay of the land.”
There were two men at the entrance when they neared, a big red-haired man, and the other with dark hair, both with their cloaks wrapped tightly around them as the chilly wind continued to blow in from the mountains.
“Some travelers passing by yesterday heading towards the Loudwater they said,” the dark haired man was saying.
“He must be of their party then,” the red haired man said, “I will ask him if we will like to leave and join them.” The two made way for the twins but did not bother to give them even so much as a second glance. They seemed engrossed in their own conversation.
The twins nodded at them, their hoods covering most of their face. Inside it was as dark and gloomy as the overcast scenario outside. A kneeling figure seemed to be attempting to stoke up a fire in the fireplace. There were just two patrons left, an old man with white hair, sitting in one corner near an open window, nearly bent over a mug of ale and a burly man in another corner, staring morosely at the floor, an empty tankard held in his hand.
Elladan and Elrohir stared at each other for a second before Elrohir motioned towards the old man. He glanced up disinterestedly as they neared him.
“We are looking for our brother. Would you have seen him?” Elrohir blurted out.
The old man blinked owlishly up at the dark haired elf, “I am looking for my horse,” he slurred, “Have you seen her?”
Elrohir gaped at him, while Elladan shook his head and dragged the younger twin away, leaving the old man muttering about a broken cartwheel.
“You are strangers here,” the man working at the fireplace had straightened up and was looking at them curiously, an old iron poker in his hand.
“Yes, we are looking for our brother,” Elladan said firmly,” We think he may have come into your village for the night.”
“He did not come here to spend the night, and there is no other place to stay here,” the man told him, wiping at the poker with a rag, “But some of the boys were camped near the forest for hunting. He might have stayed with them. Where have you come from?”
“Where are they camped?” Elrohir asked eagerly, ignoring the curious glance the man was shooting at them, glad that most of his face was hidden by the hood and dim light. It seemed a very plausible option to him, that Estel might have joined the campers at night, instead of entering the village.
“They have returned today. Kiel here was one. Kiel,” he turned to the burly young man brooding in the far corner, “Were you joined by a traveler last night?”
“Nay, we were joined by none,” the man sighed heavily, “Save clumsy fools. We caught nothing,” he added sorrowfully, “The forest is full of game, and we caught none.”
Elrohir’s heart sank at the other’s words. Estel seemed to have vanished into thin air, or into thick forest whatever the case was. He looked towards Elladan who was frowning under the hood.
“He is just a boy, with dark hair, about this tall,” Elladan was indicating with one hand to the innkeeper, “Have you surely not seen him here at all?”
“Not here,” stated the man emphatically, “But there is another inn by the river. Although they do not offer lodging these days but they may have seen him there.”
The burly hunter groaned from his chair, “All clumsy fools, we caught nothing in the forest.”
Elrohir blinked at the man, while Elladan continued to ignore him, “And may not others in the village have seen him?”
The innkeeper looked at his patrons slumped in their chairs and shrugged, “It is difficult to say if anyone saw him, our people are celebrating, they notice little during these days. It is the equinox soon. The festivities have already begun. You must join us in the evening. There will be music and much merrymaking. Where did you say you were from?”
“But in the river, aye, someone caught something in the river,” Kiel continued, “Someone in the river. They were swimming in the river last night,” he added to the innkeeper, who sighed and then said, “Kiel go home.”
The twins stood uncertainly for a while, and then Elladan said, “Thank you for your help, we will search for our brother elsewhere. Perhaps he is searching for us himself.”
“I hope your brother does not venture too deep into the forest,” the man remarked, bending towards the unlit fireplace once again, “They say one often sees elves in this season.”
It took all their self-control for both elves to let that remark pass by without reaction.
“Elves?” Elrohir stated blandly, bending his head a little so as to hide his expression from the innkeeper’s prying eyes.
“Aye, fair folk there are in these parts. We keep away from them. But it is said that sometimes they come this side of the forests. You keep an eye out for them too, both of you. They are a strange folk.”
“A strange folk?” Elrohir repeated dully, and then quietened as Elladan nudged him furiously.
“We will, I thank you once again,” he said, trying to bring as much sincerity into his voice as possible.
“Are they truly strange?” Elrohir asked suddenly as Elladan started turning towards the door. The older twin stopped in mid-stride and glared at his brother.
The man sat up, rocking back on his heels, and half turned towards them “Aye, we stay away from them. They look different, and wear different clothes, not like yours or mine. Where do you come from? Your clothes look similar to ours but your language is different?”
“Thank you again,” Elladan repeated, clutching his cloak tighter around himself and dragging his brother away.
“I have a cloak like that,” the old man in the corner said loudly, just as they left, “Green it is too.” Elrohir promptly followed his brother out.
“This was a waste of time,” Elladan muttered angrily, as they began walking down the path back to the woods they had come from, “What a village! They are all drunk or asleep or sitting inside their houses scared of a little rain!”
“You said it would not be little,” Elrohir pointed out tiredly.
The sound of footsteps behind them stifled any argument that may have arisen right then. Kiel was staggering along behind them.
“That boy wore strange clothes,” he said, his face scrunched up unhappily.
Elladan muttered something incomprehensible, and tugged Elrohir away from the drunk young man, who was now leaning against a tree.
“I would not swim in such clothes,” Kiel told Elrohir earnestly.
“The village idiot,” Elladan stated emphatically, “Come Elrohir, we have to find Estel before it starts raining!”
“No!” Elrohir whispered.
“No?” Elladan glanced back sharply at his twin who was staring at the slumped man before him, “are you not well, is it the scratches? Why did you not tell me earlier?”
“No!” Elrohir hissed exasperatedly, “Have you not heard what he has been saying?”
Herendil ran swiftly through the trees, towards where he’d seen the slight figure stumbling along. Legolas was searching downhill near the cottage so he had decided to look in the woods, and was pleasantly surprised to see Estel threading his way through, looking tired but otherwise unhurt. He swiftly came up behind the young human, and reached for him.
Estel nearly fell over when he felt the touch on his shoulder. He whirled around fearful of what to expect, and nearly fell back again when he saw the longhaired being in front of him. He stared back at the pointed ears, and cool green eyes, and the strange clothes, and then noticed the bow in one hand, and a strange smirk on the fair countenance. So he did the first thing his mind told him to and shot out a bare foot at the other’s shin, wincing as his toes struck the bone. The elf yelped in surprise, and sank onto his knees, dropping his bow. Estel backed away in confusion and shock, and then seeing the other attempting to rise, promptly turned and ran through the trees.
“Estel!” he heard the elf scream, from where he had left him.
He is calling for his friend. Of course! There were four of them. What have I done? I should not have hit an elf!
He decided his best option lay in getting away from this accursed forest. Too much happened here. It must be because of the elves. Even the skies had started to darken suddenly. But where was the way out?
Chapter 10: A Meeting of Strangers
“You saw a boy in strange clothes?” Elrohir shrugged away from Elladan to question the man slumped against the tree, “Where?” The clouds continued to close in.
Kiel blinked at the urgent note in his questioner’s voice.
“I just told you,” he complained, “He was swimming in the river.”
“Swimming? You saw a boy swimming in strange clothes yesterday?”
“Nay, he was swimming in the river,” Kiel said with great earnestness.
Elrohir could hear his twin take a deep long breath, and promptly spoke up before he could open his mouth, “A young boy with dark hair?”
Kiel nodded as earnestly as was possible in his state, while Elrohir and Elladan exchanged glances of consternation.
“Where is he now?” Elrohir asked calmly, “And how did he fare?”
The man shrugged, “He was in the inn the last I saw of him. Halen sent us all off early,” he continued in an injured tone, “He always closes early.”
“Where is this inn you speak of?” Elladan asked impatiently.
“It will be shut now. You will not get ale. You had best return to that there place,” he waved in the general direction they had come from, and then sighing, slid down to the ground, “I must prepare for the hunting.”
“I told you this is the village idiot!” Elladan said, miffed by the man’s inability to help further.
“It must be the inn we saw while coming to the village,” Elrohir said thoughtfully, “We grateful for your help, Kiel.”
Elladan glanced up at the sky, and then down the path that seemed to lead to the riverbank, “We should hurry.”
“What happened?” Legolas crashed through the undergrowth to reach his kinsman, who was now sitting on the damp ground, hugging his left leg against his chest.
“That impertinent child kicked me!” came the indignant reply.
“I know none other! And now he has run off again and ensured that I cannot follow him. However, he must have left a good track judging by the way he bolted, we should not have trouble following him.”
“Are you all right?” Legolas knelt by the other elf, planning to help him stand up.
“Yes, I am fine,” Herendil replied taking Legolas’ proffered arm, and pulling himself up.
“But why would Estel kick you?”
“I would not know that, would I? All I did was to call out to him,” Herendil held onto his kinsman’s shoulder while balancing himself on one leg.
Legolas frowned slightly, “Surely he would not be playing around like this. You are sure it was Estel, and no other child?”
Herendil nodded as he placed his left leg on the ground to test it, “His attire was different but it was he.”
“And he ran away?”
“Yes, he seemed scared. Though I know not why,” Herendil, mused, picking up his bow from where he had dropped it, “We had best go after him. I wonder how the Elladan and Elrohir fare at the village.”
“Let us find Estel first, and then if they are not back we can go search for them,” Legolas said heading towards the clump of trees the boy had run into.
“This is turning out to be a hunt, indeed,” he heard his kinsman say as they struck their way through the trees, following the easy track a panic-stricken Estel had left for them.
“He heads toward the river, it appears.”
“Ada will be interested to hear that the cure for injuries from a wolf attack includes a walk in the countryside,” Elladan remarked, looking at his twin who was surreptitiously trying to stretch himself ease the ache in his back.
“This is the place,” Elrohir ignored his remark and headed towards the solitary building on the riverbank. There was no one in sight save a girl looking out towards the forests behind the inn.
She glanced up at their visitors, curiously. Elrohir adopted the most winsome expression he could, and moved forward towards her, “Greetings!” he called out.
“We are closed right now, sirs,” the girl replied politely, and turned to look towards the woods again.
“We have not come for ale,” Elladan told her trying to adopt as friendly a tone as his brother had.
“We do not take lodgers any more,” the girl turned back to them.
“We came to -” Elrohir was interrupted by the sound of running steps. A boy had rounded the house, and came up to the girl gasping.
“Nowhere to be seen,” he said in between gulps of air.
“Good riddance to him, I say then,” the girl replied pertly, and then turned back to the twins, “I am sorry, sirs, but we are closed to custom now, and my father is away at the village. Do you wish to wait for him? He will return soon, for it looks to rain heavily.”
The boy slumped down on a small bench nearby, “You are not from the village.” He observed, his face taking on a sulky expression.
Elladan promptly changed the subject. “Who hit you?” he inquired, indicating the cut and bruises on the boy’s face.
The boy flushed slightly, and raised his hand to the cut, frowning darkly.
“‘Twas a silly thieving boy. But we drove him away,” the girl replied.
“A thieving child?” Elrohir asked sharply.
“Aye, he said he was lost, but we think he merely uses that as a ruse,” the boy spoke up, “He has escaped us, but he cannot wander the woods for long. Perhaps the elves will catch him,” he added gleefully.
“He is not from your village?” Elladan asked hoping to divert his twin’s attention from what seemed to be the prevalent attitude towards the denizens of Imaldris in this settlement.
The girl shook her head, “He fell into the river, and so they brought him in here. Strangers to our village often stop by here.”
For a second there was silence. Then Elladan spoke, in a flat voice, “We will not wait for your father. It does look like rain. We must be on our way, for we have far to go.”
“The woods,” Elrohir groaned when they were some distance away from the building. Some distance away, they could see the red-haired man from the village approaching the inn. They rounded the building and struck off down the riverbank towards the woods.
Estel crashed through the thick clumps of trees and dense undergrowth, stumbling more than once, and adding fresh layers of scratches and scrapes. He was dotted with mud and leaves now, and his bare feet had been assaulted by all manner of thorns and twigs, but he would still not slow down. He noticed a clearing ahead and raced for it, realizing to his joy that he had reached the edge of the forest, and then finding to his dismay that he was back where he had started from, for a gently rolling slope suddenly broke off into a short but vertical drop to the river curving into a bend on which stood the inn he had run away from. And coming up the small hill that ran up from behind the inn were two heavily cloaked figures. He paused irresolutely, bending to his knees as he tried to regain his breath. Above him the sky loomed almost black now, faint rumblings of thunder coming in from the distance. Standing up again, he rubbed his aching head tiredly wondering where to go, and did not hear the steps behind him until it was too late.
“There you are,” came a voice in his ear, and he whirled in confusion. The elf he had kicked, no, it was another elf this time. He stood frozen to the spot, his mind screaming at him to run, to fight, to do anything except stand still, but his limbs refused to obey, and the elf grasped him by his arms.
Legolas stared in surprise at the rapidly paling face of the boy in front of him, “Estel?”
Herendil suddenly gave a sharp cry, “Elladan, Elrohir, he is here!”
Estel nearly jumped at the sudden shout, and involuntarily turned to look in the same direction as the elves. The two figures climbing the hill slowly now broke into a rapid run. How many more of them are there hiding in these woods? I should never have left that house. It could not have been worse than this! Estel’s face reflected clearly the desperation he felt.
“What is the matter?” the tall elf holding him asked.
“Please let me go,” he begged, and immediately hated himself for begging but he was too spent to defend himself.
“What is wrong? Why do you look so scared?” the elf asked, still holding onto him.
“I did no wrong! Please let me go,” he tried to wriggle out of the grasp, but he was being held too tight for that. He cowered away. He was caught now, and there was no escaping it. And he had no strength left to make an escape! In anguish, he watched as the two new figures pushed back their hoods to reveal their elven features, and long dark hair. He bit his lip, and stared at the ground miserably.
The elf holding him was still trying to talk to him, asking him why he was scared. He wished he would let him be. Was it not enough that they had captured him, did they have to mock him for his fear as well?
“It is I, Legolas,” the elf said suddenly. Not only did he wear strange clothes, and have long, braided hair, he had a funny name too, Estel decided, his fear allayed a little by the strange humour on the situation. If they were going to mock him for being human, he could mock them for being elves too.
“Is that actually your name?” he said.
“Why do you keep calling me that? Is that an insult for humans?” he retorted, picking up a little courage.
“Why do you speak so?” came the incredulous response. The other elf who had been standing away from them came forward with a surprised expression on his face.
“You need not continue with this play any longer. I will come with you peacefully,” Estel declared with as much dignity as he could muster.
“Estel!’ he nearly jumped again, as two voices reached his ears in chorus.
“Where did you find him?” Elrohir asked breathlessly as he came up to the trio.
“I do not know if I have found him,” Legolas exclaimed, “He looks like your brother, but speaks not like him. Can I have been in error?”
Elladan and Elrohir stared at the two confused elves, and then at the sullen boy with them, who was busy watching the grass under his feet.
“Estel,” Elladan said softly.
“Do not call me that!” their brother looked up, and they were struck by the fierce, angry expression on his face.
“Then what do I call you?” Elladan asked slowly.
“I do not know,” Estel whispered miserably.
“You do not know what we should call you?” Elrohir came forward and knelt in front of the boy, motioning to Legolas to let him go. He grasped the boy’s arms instead, and stared back at the clear grey eyes gently.
Estel looked back at the grey-eyed elf, his dark hair blowing across the fine features, as a stiff breeze cold breeze blew in from the river, making him shiver suddenly, and his face crumpled up as a tear leaked its way down one cheek, “I do not know my name.”
“Is this a prank on your part, Estel?” Elladan frowned angrily. Estel first stared back at the likeness of this new one to the one who held him, and then shrank away from the elder twin, as he came and stood in front of him displaying a grim countenance.
“No!” Elrohir said immediately, “It is no prank. He is hurt.”
“He must have hit his head,” Herendil said resignedly, taking in the sight of the angry and frightened young man cringing in Elrohir’s grip.
Legolas’ eyes widened in understanding, “And he does not recognise us!”
“Oh, Ada is going to be quite happy indeed,” Elladan said bitterly, “Elrohir is attacked by wolves, and refuses to rest his wounds, while Estel cannot remember his name, and who knows what else. And I will face the brunt of his ire, since these two are ailing. Perhaps I should break my leg to escape the discourse that is sure to follow.”
“And leave us to face Lord Elrond’s ire?” Herendil inquired silkily, “I think not, my friend. ”
“You could break something too, if you like” Legolas suggested, “But, let us discuss your blatant cowardice later. For now, having found everyone we were hunting for, we should make haste and leave before the rains arrive.” As if in response, a loud ominous rumbling ensued from the sky.
Estel however had other plans. Noticing that Elrohir had loosened his grip on him, and turned around to join the strange banter of the others, he promptly pushed him away, throwing him onto his back, against the hard ground and raced off down the hill, towards the river. The fallen elf cried out sharply in pain, and the ensuing tumult gave him an advantage. Then he heard a yell from the slope to his side carried over by the strong wind, and saw the familiar figure of Mirel standing further down the riverbank. Behind him, one of the blonde elves was following him down the hill. And Mirel was running back into the inn, still shouting something. A loud clap of thunder reverberated through the air. Below him at the bottom of the sharp edge the river flowed swiftly on. And seeing no other way out, he leapt in, just as the skies broke out in torrential sheets of rain.
Chapter 11: A River’s Gift
Lightning streaked across the sky as Estel hit the water. It was cold as ice, the river flowing down as it did from the snowy heights of the mountains, and the noise made by his entry into it was promptly drowned by a loud thunderclap.
Elrohir had been half-kneeling awkwardly when Estel had pushed him away, and unable to regain his balance, he fell backwards, crying out as his sore back came into contact with the hard ground, sending the pain flaring up once again, even as the wind was knocked out of him. Chaos ensued after that. He sensed Elladan leaning over him as he struggled to recover his breath. He could hear Legolas and Herendil shouting something, and in the distance someone else was yelling loudly.
And then the skies burst.
“Estel?” he croaked out as the raindrops splattered onto his face.
“Legolas and Herendil went after him,” Elladan replied promptly, “Can you get up? Be careful now.”
Elrohir straightened up painfully, and managed to stand with Elladan’s help as the rain poured down, swift and voluminous. A stiff wind kept the precipitate almost horizontal to the ground, so that it struck the twins on their faces, sharp stabbing drops of cold rain, unremitting and unceasing. The combined roar of wind and water was almost as loud as that of the river flowing below, and huge puddles formed on the ground. The green grassy slope was now a mess of wet mud and squelchy grass.
To their eyes it seemed nothing was visible but a wall of water. The little funnel shaped valley simply sucked in the rain clouds surrounding it, and let them present their bounty. They squelched through the soft, wet surface, the soft fabric of their boots offering no protection against the rivulets of water now forming along the grassy knoll. At the bottom of the hill further downstream, someone had raced out of the inn and was standing by the water’s edge.
“Where is Estel?” Elrohir asked worriedly, his voice still sounding winded, as he bent over in pain and irritation.
“He ran downhill,” Elladan muttered.
“Towards the river?” the younger twin gritted out, still hunched over. He straightened up, a drawn face turned towards his brother’s worried countenance, “Come, and let us hurry. He was already panicking, and I dread to think what he may do now.”
“Will you not sit here and wait?” Elladan pleaded.
“No,” came the emphatic response, as the tall elf stood up erect and set off downhill once again.
Elladan sighed in irritation, and picking up the packs that had been dropped in the confusion, followed his brother to find their fears had been quite well founded. The only figure visible anywhere within even elven sight was the man by the inn who was running towards them frantically waving his arms. Estel was nowhere to be seen. Neither were Herendil and Legolas. Below the little outcropping the river flowed noisily.
“I cannot see any of them!” Elrohir yelled out worriedly, “Where are they?”
Elladan glanced around wildly, before groaning when he saw a soggy heap lying on the riverbank.
“The river!” he said holding up two dripping cloaks, and then put out a hand to pull his twin away from the edge, “No, you will get wet!”
Elrohir stared back at him incredulously for an entire half-second.
Estel felt the grip on his clothes, as he struggled to keep his head above the choppy waters. He kicked out furiously, feeling his barefoot connect with something hard, and a howl that rose above the din of the rain. He had given up on attempting to swim as soon as he had hit the water, feeling himself being dragged by a current too strong to negotiate. It seemed like a matter of many eons but it was in barely a minute or two that he was dragged around the bend in the river towards the pile of rocks strewn across the shallow part of its bed.
Of all the things to build upon a river the inhabitants of that rain-infested village had to build a dam! Estel scrunched up his eyes as he found himself being drawn inexorably towards the row of stones, with no strength left in his limbs to fight the force of the current.
“I cannot see them!” Elrohir yelled out angrily, as they raced downhill along the edge towards the spot where it flattened out by the riverbed, “What curse befell this place that the rain falls with such fury? I could not see my hand if I held it in front of my face!”
The figure from the inn had run up to them by now, the red-haired man they had noticed earlier, wearing a heavy cloak to protect him from the rain, peering through the curtain of rain that seemed to surround everything.
“There are people in the river!” he blurted out as the twins reached him.
“Where are they? I cannot see them?” Elladan asked worriedly, pushing back the hood of his cloak.
“You are elves!” the man gasped out.
“Where are they?” Elrohir gritted out urgently.
“The current is very swift. They will be carried to the curve in the river. But why do you care?”
“Later! We must find them first!” Elladan retorted, over his shoulder, as he continued making his way down the bank.
“There is a temporary dam at the bend,” the man said as he raced along to keep up with them.
“A dam?” Elrohir stopped, and turned to the innkeeper, “What kind of a dam?”
“Just a blockade of stones, to prevent the river flooding when the river it around the village. It rains much in these parts.”
“Herendil!” Elladan’s shout made Elrohir look up in surprise.
Elladan was kneeling by the river’s edge helping a very wet elf to his feet. A very wet elf who seemed to have trouble with one leg.
“Where is Estel? And Legolas?” Elrohir asked worriedly.
“Where is the boy?” the innkeeper bristled.
Herendil shook off Elladan’s arm but stayed kneeling sitting on the ground, “Still in the river. Hurry! I will join you soon.”
“Where is this dam you speak of?” Elladan turned to the innkeeper.
“Over here!” Elrohir was standing along the other arm of the bend now, some distance away. He pointed towards the row of stones where a lithe figure with long, blonde hair lay sprawled half on them, half in the water.
“Estel?” Elrohir whispered fearfully.
“What of the boy?” the innkeeper muttered again. When no reply was forthcoming, he pulled at Elladan’s sleeve, “The boy? Were your friends chasing the boy? What do your kind want with him?”
Elrohir meanwhile had swiftly climbed onto what remained of the makeshift wall, and was racing towards where his friend seemed to be raising himself.
Estel grunted. Then he opened his eyes, and then he realised he had no idea where he was. He vaguely remembered something to do with water. And stones. Lots of stones. And he had been floating towards them. Then he had stopped floating. And after that he was not at all clear what had happened. But he did feel as though an entire house had collapsed upon him. He hurt all over. Especially his head. It felt as though an army of dwarves were mining for mithril in it. And he could not see a thing. And there was a weight upon him. He grunted again, and then heard a grunt in response. There was something, or someone crushing him against a rocky surface. And it was not comfortable.
The weight lifted off him, and he turned over and found himself staring back into a familiar face. And he found he was outside and it was raining very heavily. Either that, or someone was pouring buckets of water over him.
Then a sharp sound made him screw up his eyes as it pounded through his aching head. The voice sounded familiar too.
“Legolas! Where is Estel? Did you see him?” that sounded to his weary head like Elrohir, perhaps being chased by a herd of oliphaunts. Legolas turned a worried face away from him to the source of the noise.
“I am here,” he muttered weakly, shocked at the sound of his own voice.
The blonde head hovering above him whipped around towards him and then suddenly sank out of sight with an accompanying splash.
“Legolas!” Elrohir again, and then, “Estel!” He scrambled up, looked around and realised he was on a stretch of rocks, in the middle of a river, in a torrential downpour that looked never to abate, and his friend, an elf, had slipped off the stones back into the river and was now raising himself back on to what seemed to once have been a wall of stones. And his brother was making his way across that wall carefully, much too carefully.
“Elrohir,” he said with as much dignity as possible, “I think our woodland friend lost his balance. Water is apparently not quite his realm.”
“You know me?” Elrohir gaped.
“Did you fall on your head, Elrohir? Why would I not know you?” he retorted, as his head began its incessant pounding again. Standing up he tried to maintain his balance upon the slippery rocks, while Legolas hauled himself out of the water.
“He remembers” the sylvan elf told the twin, as they stood upon the rocks, trying to maintain their balance the rain continuing to exert its fury over all sundry.
“Yes,” Elrohir said blankly, grimacing a little as he felt a slight tug in his sore back while narrowly averting himself from slipping on a wet rock.
“You are hurt, Elrohir,” Estel commented.
“Elrohir! Legolas! … Estel?”
“Elladan?” Estel groaned. His head protested to noise by creating some sort of a din in itself.
“Let us get out of here, and back onto dry land,” Legolas said firmly.
“Dry land? It is raining, Legolas,” Estel retorted, grinning a little despite the aches he felt running through him.
The din created on the riverbank at their return was just as bad. Estel groaned once again as Elrohir hauled him onto the soggy bank. He slumped forward tiredly onto the ground, and let his cheek rest against the wet grass, ignoring the rain, and taking in the smell of wet mud and foliage.
It felt nice. Wet, but nice. Except for the volley of shouts ringing in his ears.
“He is all right!” Elrohir and Legolas yelling in unison.
“What happened?” that sounded like Elladan.
“I am not stepping near him again. He kicked me twice in the same spot!” That was the other elf from Mirkwood, Herendil.
“Young one, are you all right!” now that voice he did not know.
“Estel,” Elrohir was kneeling by him, “are you all right?”
He moaned. He had managed to figure out by now that it was not just his head that hurt, but also his back, his ribs, his arms, his legs. Everything hurt. Well, perhaps, not his hair, but everything else certainly did.
“I am all right,” he muttered, and allowed himself to be helped up to a sitting position, where he promptly pulled his legs up and crossing his hands over his knees, dropped his weary head onto them, hoping the noise would die out. It didn’t, of course.
“How -?” that was Elladan again.
“We hit the rocks. I tried to pull him away, but the river was too swift. I presume he hit his head again,” Legolas said, though what he was talking of Estel could not make out. Nor did he really feel like. Something told him, it would only worsen his headache. He felt Elrohir wrap his arms around him, and promptly leaned into his embrace, trying not to let the tears that were threatening to spill out any moment fall.
“He is your friend?” the gruff voice he had been unable to recognise.
Estel lifted up his head and tried to shake the water away, a useless gesture as rain continued to splatter on and around him. A red haired man was staring at him his face a picture of open curiosity.
“He is our foster brother,” Elladan replied, coming forward towards him, and kneeling in front of him, a wide smile on his face, as he grasped him by his shoulders.
“Your brother?” the man gaped a while, then nodded his head slowly, “that explains his clothing. We thought them strange.”
Elladan turned around at that, one eyebrow quirked up in inquiry, “We?”
“My name is Halen. I own the inn on the river. We found him in the river last night. He could not tell us who he was. I left him with my children this morning, but when I returned -,” the man looked at the ground, seeming a little embarrassed, grinding a hole into the wet mud with the heel of his boot.
“Then I thank you for looking after him last night,” Elladan said politely. He didn’t have to guess what had happened between the children and his brother. The little they had spoken to them had told them much.
‘”Twas naught. But I fear the children undid all that. Forgive me, they scared away your brother. They have not had many dealings with strangers.
“They are merely children, there is still time for them to learn,” it occurred to a very confused Estel that his brother seemed to be displaying a great deal of patience.
“Your kind have not been seen here for many years. We have short lives. Too short to remember many things. And much is forgotten over time.”
“I understand. We do not find much to bring us this way these days.”
“Will you not come in and take shelter from the rain,” the man asked them, his voice still retained its gruffness but the tone sounded politer and friendlier.
“I want to go home,” Estel said flatly.
“So do I” Elrohir said promptly.
“And I,” Herendil muttered in agreement.
Legolas shrugged, “We are already wet,” he pointed out, “And the rain is lightening.”
“You could dry your clothes in front of the fire before you go, if you like, the boy’s clothes are still there,” Halen said.
“Estel will need dry clothes, and Legolas is right, I do not think it will rain much longer. We can leave as soon as Estel has changed into his own clothes,” Elladan decided, looking to the others for approval. He got a series of shrugs in return, except from his youngest brother who seemed to be staring at his clothes in surprise.
“Where did these absurd clothes come from?” Estel whispered to Elrohir as he stood up with the elf’s help.
“Ssh, they must have given you those clothes in the inn last night after they pulled you out of the river,” Legolas told him softly.
“What river? What inn? And who is that man? And why does he talk to me as though I know him?”
“You fell into the river last night,” Elrohir began.
“No, I fell into the river today. We just came out of it, remember.”
“I fear that word is one I would not like to hear much,” Elrohir told him, “Do you not remember what happened last night?” he asked as they scrambled up the riverbank towards the inn.
“Last night? No -” Estel frowned realising for the first time after being pulled out of the water that he seemed to have lost time somewhere, “We went hunting, and – and I got lost, and I fell off a tree -”
“I knew it!” Legolas exclaimed, as he walked alongside his wearied friends, wondering which one of them looked worse. Estel it was, he decided.
The boy’s eyes narrowed as he gazed at the sodden figure of the blonde elf, “And you might not be half as wet if you learned to keep your balance outside of trees as well!”
“Impudent little child,” Legolas retorted, but he was smiling.
“Do not be rude, Estel,” Elrohir said sighing, “After all, this woodland dweller did help us get you out of the river today.”
“Today or yesterday? I am confused,” Estel said plaintively, his head was at it again, he decided. He could not remember how he had landed in the river.
“‘Tis a long story, and I am tired.”
“You are hurt, are you not? I knew it! It is your back, is it not? Elladan! Elrohir has hurt his back!”
Elladan turned around, “I know, and now that we have found you in one piece, perhaps he will let me tend to him.”
“How did it happen?” the boy asked worriedly.
“Wolves,” Elrohir said shortly.
“And then he would not rest,” Legolas added helpfully.
“We wanted him to return home, but he refused,” Herendil added, still limping, but seemingly happier now that the rain had reduced to a drizzle.
“Wolves?” Estel said softly, “There were wolves. I was trying to find the camp, and there were wolves, and I slipped and – and – I cannot remember,” he gulped noisily, completely confused now.
It is allr ight, you were hurt, that is why you cannot remember, do not worry about it, we are here now,” Elrohir said wrapping his arms around him and as he stumbled a little, pulling him inside the folds of the voluminous cloak he had borrowed from the washing line.
He had calmed himself down by the time they had reached the inn. The rain had reduced to a patter, and the sun shone brightly out of the clouds. They entered a warm room with tables and chairs and a huge lit fireplace. Halen handed Estel his old clothes, now dried, but full of tiny rips and tears. Two children shuffled in and gave him a morose look, and a tutored apology, for reasons he could not entirely understand, and then sidled out timidly. He shrugged, a little embarrassed himself, as he realised the clothes he were returning to them were a worse mess than the clothes he had been wearing originally. Behind him, the elves stood by the fire talking, for once agreeing on something. They all wanted to return home. Estel could not have agreed more.
“When do we leave?” he asked Elrohir who was pulling off the blue tunic that he had worn over his own clothes, and then looked at him in wonder, “Where did you get these clothes? That tunic looks like a -”
“It belongs to an extremely kind old man from the village. A very gracious edan of advanced years who thinks nothing of helping those in need. This cloak is his too.”
“What old man?” Legolas spluttered.
“An old man in an inn inside the village,” Elrohir retorted with dignity.
“I knew it could not have been the choice of a sober man,” Estel grinned broadly.
“Talk of sobriety from one who barely hours ago, refused to recognise his own kin?” Elrohir retorted, his eyebrows raised, and earning a glare from his brother as their foster brother’s eyes dropped to the ground.
“Forgive me,” he said promptly regretting his words and kneeling before the boy, “We were very worried when you reacted as you did.”
Estel smiled back at him a little sadly, and then suddenly said, “Should you not return the clothes to him?”
“Old Gredel lent that to you?” Halen asked entering the room just in time to hear their conversation, and smiling at the sight of the tunic and cloak.
“Yes,” Elrohir said promptly, deciding that a tunic like that would have been quite noticeable “Could you please return it to him, along with this cloak? He may not remember having lent it. He was a little confused.”
“That I can believe,” the innkeeper grinned broadly.
It had stopped raining when they left soon after, having eaten some food that Halen had pressed upon them. Elladan had also convinced his brother to let him see to his injuries, pursing his lips as he noted they had not healed as quickly as they should have, and muttering numerous things about stubborn younger siblings.
Despite their tiredness made quick time upriver under bright sunshine, talking amongst themselves much of the while, the elves telling Estel all that had happened to them, and the little of what they knew had happened to him, most of which had him completely stunned and disbelieving.
“And now, how do I explain all this to ada?” Elladan demanded as he helped Elrohir along a steep uphill stretch not far from the where they had set up their camp. The younger twin was frowning from the effort now and looked nearly as exhausted as Estel did.
“I would have helped but I fear I have nearly had my leg broken,” Herendil replied, still limping a little, “Estel has been very adept at hitting the same place twice.”
“Forgive me, Herendil. Does it hurt very badly?” the mortified young man asked, biting his lip.
Herendil waved him away with a smile, “Nay, it is not all that bad.”
“Legolas can explain the whole story,” Elrohir suggested grinning at the blonde elf.
“Explain what? All I did was to offer to help you find Estel,” the elven prince promptly replied, “I think he should be the one to do the explaining!”
“I do not remember anything,” Estel said promptly, “And for once, I am glad of that.”
“Well, you did say some strange things,” Elladan said teasingly, his hand still around the younger twin’s shoulder.
“I did?” came the worried question from the tired young man.
“Well you did say Legolas had a funny name!”
“He did not!” Legolas glared at the dark haired elf.
“Yes, he did, and he said -”
“No! I did not!” the grey eyes were glistening a little now, and the worn face was scrunching up unhappily.
Elladan reached his other hand out for the boy’s shoulder, and drew him close, “Oh Estel! Don’t you worry yourself over that now,” he said soothingly, while Legolas shook his head smiling gently.
“No, you have worse things to worry about,” Herendil’s voice rang out from the lead, as he came to a stop near the camp and bowed to the figure leading an equine party from the opposite direction.
“Greetings, lord Elrond. We were just on our way to your homestead,” he said politely.
“Greetings, Herendil,” Elrond said calmly taking in the sight of four damp elves, and a damper human, all of whom had suddenly developed an interest in the vegetation they were treading upon.
He swung off his horse, the graceful movements belying his age, “Estel, you look a sight. Elrohir, what happened to you? And Herendil, why do you limp?”
“We were caught in a storm,” Elladan said brightly.
Elrond shook his head and gave them a look of long suffering patience as he led them to the spare horses, he had brought along, “Elladan, let your brother ride with you. Estel can come with me. Herendil, Legolas, you look well enough to ride alone.” They obeyed the instructions without hesitation, Elladan merely taking a few seconds to tell his father something of Estel’s condition. Elrond’s expression in response seemed one torn between worry, relief, resignation, disbelief and amusement.
“Forgive me, ada,” the young man said once he was up on the horse in front of his foster father.
“For what, child?” Elrond asked softly.
“I got lost and the others stayed back to find me.”
“I would expect no less from them, Estel. Do not worry yourself anymore, we are going home.” The tired dark head nodded tiredly and slumped sleepily back against the warmth of a father’s embrace.
“Well, that went off quite well, I think,” Legolas muttered to Elladan, as they rode abreast alongside Herendil. Elrohir still looked a little sulky about having to ride with Elladan.
“Wait. He hasn’t seen Elrohir yet,” the elder twin muttered.
“Let us stay back and complete the hunt,” Elrohir suggested promptly but tiredly.
“I think it is you who fell on your head and not Estel,” Elladan said crossly, “Do you think anyone is going to let out of the house for the next few days?”
“Estel said something similar at the river,” Legolas mused.
“How would you know? You were in the water!” came the pert response.
“Strangely enough, I do not think I have ever been in such an exciting hunt before in all these centuries,” Herendil told Elladan calmly.