4. The Dark of Night
The air was hot and thick with dust that seemed to coat his lungs and hinder his ability to breathe. Though his whole body felt sore, the most intense ache was in his head, which seemed to throb painfully in rhythm with beating of his heart. Slowly lifting his hand to touch the side of his head where the pain was most intense, he felt a thick, warm fluid that could only be his own blood. Though his mind grasped frantically for any trace of recollection, he could not remember how he came to be in this dreadful place. In his pain and confusion, he felt his stomach begin to clench in panic.
Willing himself to remain calm, he took stock of his situation. He was laying flat on his back on firm, rocky ground. Reaching his arms out to search around, he quickly came in contact with the cold, hard, rough surface of what could only be a cave wall. He could also feel numerous rocks of various sizes scattered on the ground around him. Suddenly, the memories of what had occurred came back to him in a flash: felling the troll, seeking shelter in the cave, the earth-shattering crash, the torrent of rocks falling and Elladan pushing him out of the way. Elladan! What had become of Elladan?
At the recollection of what had occurred, Estel quickly pushed himself up to sit and immediately regretted doing so as he was overcome by a sudden wave of dizziness. Steadying himself, he tried again to see around him. This time he found that he could begin to decipher vague images in the gloom, and his eyes were drawn instantly to a faint glow emanating from a large wall of rocks but a few feet away.
Heedless of his own pain, he scrambled over to the source of the glow and there he found Elladan’s body, or at least what he could see of it. Elladan lay on his stomach, with his head and chest completely covered by the rubble of the cave-in. Only his legs protruded from under the rocks.
“No!” Estel sobbed in anguish, for surely Elladan was dead, crushed under the weight of all that rock. Tentatively, almost reverently, he reached out to touch the body laying prone before him. His eyes widened in surprise when he felt not the cold rigidity of death as he was expecting, but rather the warm, if weak, pulse of life beneath his fingers.
“Could he yet live?” Estel questioned in wonder, as slowly, with shaky hands, he attempted to extricate the body from the rubble. He knew that he had to proceed with caution, as a hasty move could destabilize the pile and send more rocks crashing down upon them both. With relative ease he removed the smaller rocks that covered Elladan’s back, and then he beheld a rather extraordinary sight. Two large boulders lay propped together, each one supporting the weight of the other, directly above Elladan’s head. During the cave-in, the two great rocks must have impacted together, forming, in effect, a shield against the tide of rocks. There was but a finger width of space between Elladan and the boulders that were precariously balanced above him.
Quickly appraising the situation, Estel found himself in a dilemma. He could see that the position of the boulders was unstable and they were straining under the weight of the rocks laying atop them. Elladan had to be moved with haste, for this unsteady foundation supporting a ton of rock above his head could give way in an instant, crushing him completely. However, all of Estel’s training and instincts as a healer told him never to move the body of one who might have injuries to the back or neck without extreme caution, for such movement could make the injuries much worse, leading to paralysis or even death.
Taking a deep breath and stilling his thoughts, Estel did the only thing he could think to do given the circumstances. Placing his hands lightly upon Elladan’s back, with gentle pressure he felt along the length of his spine and neck. Estel had seen Lord Elrond use this technique to assess wounds inside a man’s body that were not visible to the eye and he knew that only the most skilled healers in Arda were gifted with such an ability. Much to his surprise, he found that when he closed his eyes and concentrated, a clear picture of Elladan’s injuries formed in his mind. He released his breath with a sigh of relief upon sensing that, while Elladan had several cracked ribs, there was no internal bleeding and his spine and neck were not broken.
Estel’s eyes snapped open as he heard the groaning of the boulders straining under the weight atop them. There was no more time to spare, Elladan had to be moved. Gently as he could, Estel began to pull the unconscious form out from under the massive rocks. It was not a moment too soon, for finally the boulders succumbed to their burden and, with the sound of rock grinding on rock, the unstable foundation began to collapse, sending a fresh wave of rubble cascading down. With all thought of caution lost in the urgency of the situation, Estel quickly grabbed Elladan and pushed him against the cave wall, shielding him from the flying debris.
When the rocks had again settled and all was quiet, Estel was most relieved to find that neither of them had sustained further injury. However, as more rocks had fallen and piled up at the cave entrance, the blockade between them and any hope of escape had grown thicker and what little space they had in their rocky prison had diminished. Between the cave wall and the barrier of rocks blocking their exit there was scarcely room to move. The second wave of rubble had sent even more dust into what little air remained and, despite Elladan’s soft glow, which Estel noted with concern was far too faint, the small cave was still oppressively dark. As he struggled to move in the cramped quarters, breathe in the stale air, and see in the gloom, Estel was struck by the thought that they may as well have been in a tomb.
Perhaps they were.
Suppressing a shudder, Estel turned away from his gloomy thoughts and focused his attention on something he could, hopefully, do something about. Kneeling beside Elladan, he attempted a more thorough examination. In the darkness, he had to rely mainly on his touch and on his keen instincts as a healer. He was greatly disturbed by what he found. Elladan’s pulse was very weak, his breathing was shallow, and his heartbeat was irregular and slow. While he knew already about the broken ribs, Estel found two other injuries that caused him the greatest concern: Elladan’s left arm was twisted and bent in several places at the most unnatural of angles, and, even more worrying, there was a large lump on the front of his head, suggesting he had been struck hard in the rockfall.
For a brief moment, Estel felt utter despair. Elladan was badly wounded, unconscious, his hold on life seemed tenuous and there was little he could do to aid him. He had no fire, no bandages, no healing herbs and his only source of water was in the small flask that was secured to his belt. Still, he could not allow himself to give up hope. While life endured, hope remained.
Closing his eyes and breathing deeply, Estel recalled with ease all that he had eagerly learned about the healing arts at his foster father’s side. Opening his eyes with a new resolve, he decided to focus first on Elladan’s arm. Gently running his hand down the arm, he was much aggrieved at the extent of the damage. Never had he seen such a badly shattered limb, and there were numerous breaks in the bones down the whole length of the arm. If the arm was to have any hope of healing properly, the bones needed to be set and held firmly in place to avoid further damage. But what could he use as a splint? There was nothing around but rock and more rock.
Suddenly, Estel had an idea. Both of their swords were long gone, buried under a mountain of rubble, but their scabbards remained secured to their belts. It would have to do. Estel carefully set the bones in place and then firmly secured the scabbards to either side of Elladan’s arm with long strips of fabric torn from his cloak. Sitting back, he surveyed his work with a sense of satisfaction. The splint was crude, but it would serve given the circumstances.
He used more long strips of his destroyed cloak to tightly bind Elladan’s chest, securing the broken ribs, and then, with more than a little trepidation, Estel turned his attention to the lump on Elladan’s head. Head wounds were always worrisome and difficult to assess, particularly when the patient lost consciousness. The injury might be little more than a minor concussion or it could indicate much more serious brain damage. However, the fact that Elladan had remained unconscious for so long did not bode well.
Truly, Estel was at a loss as to what to do. Clearing his mind of conscious thought, he let his instincts take over. He felt the need to touch Elladan, to try to share his strength with his ailing foster brother. Tenderly, he pressed one hand against Elladan’s head, and the other he laid on the injured arm, and then he whispered in Quenya the healing chants he had oft heard Elrond speak over the most gravely injured in his care. As he focused his whole attention on the chant and an image of Elladan’s broken body mending, he felt a tingling in his limbs, a warmth that spread down his arms and through his hands. Elladan’s skin grew warmer beneath his touch and then, as suddenly as it had begun, the unusual sensation faded.
Elladan’s condition seemed to improve almost instantly. His elven glow increased in intensity and his pulse and breathing became more steady. His eyes began to flutter under his still tightly closed eyelids and he took on the appearance more of one who was in a deep sleep rather than one hovering on the brink of death.
Estel, suddenly feeling very tired and drained of all energy, sagged against the cave wall and watched Elladan’s seemingly miraculous transformation with the greatest relief and more than a little wonder. In all honesty, he knew not what he had done, if in fact he had done anything at all. Truly, it was of little importance to him, all that mattered was that Elladan would live. Overwhelmed by his exhaustion and relief, fear and joy, Estel wept, and soon, no longer able to resist his body’s demands for rest, he slipped into a light sleep.
Slowly, Elladan dragged himself back to consciousness. Once awake, however, he wished he was not, for his whole body seemed to be in pain. In particular, he was aware of his aching arm, his sore chest and an intense throbbing in his head. He was lying on the hardest, roughest surface he could imagine and as he opened his eyes he saw nothing but blackness before him. Attempting to sit in order to gain a better understanding of his situation, Elladan was rewarded with a fresh wave of pain for his efforts and releasing a groan, he again lay himself down on his most uncomfortable bed.
He heard movement and then he could barely discern in the darkness the worried face of Estel hovering above him. “Lie still, Elladan. You are badly injured. How do you feel?”
Elladan could not suppress another groan at what stuck him as one of the least intelligent questions he had heard in a while. “I have faired better.” Speaking was difficult, for his dry throat felt as though it was covered in a layer of dust and his voice sounded surprisingly weak and frail to his own ears.
He felt a hand slip beneath his neck, providing him firm but gentle support, and a flask was placed to his lips. “Take some water, it will help.”
Estel spoke to him with a tone of authority that Elladan had never before heard from the youth and he gratefully accepted the proffered water, savouring the cool liquid as it quenched his thirst and cleared his throat. “My thanks, Estel. Truly I do feel better.”
So great was Estel’s joy at seeing Elladan awake and lucid that he spoke with a jovial familiarity that normally he dared not use to address the elder son of Elrond: “Welcome back to the world of the living Elladan! I regret that I am unable to offer you better accommodations.”
At the mention of their current surroundings, Elladan voiced the question that was foremost on his mind. “Where are we? What has happened?”
Estel frowned in concern as he questioned: “Do you not remember?
Elladan shook his head and instantly regretted the action; first, because Estel was unlikely to see the gesture in the dark and, second, because the movement caused his head to throb in a most unpleasant manner. “Nay, I fear that my recent memories are a bit hazy.”
“We are trapped in this cave behind a wall of boulders due to an unlucky series of events involving an unfortunate choice of shelter on my part, a dying troll’s errant hammer and a large number of falling rocks, from which you saved my life, yet again, and for which I am most grateful.”
With this brief explanation, Elladan’s memories of battling the troll returned with clarity, and his thoughts quickly turned to concern for the youth’s welfare. He scrutinized the young man more closely in the near-dark, this time noticing with his keen sight the dark stain that could only be blood beginning on Estel’s temple and running down the side of his face. “You are wounded,” he stated with concern.
Only now did Estel remember his own injury and he reached up to touch his temple, finding that the blood had already dried and the wound had closed. “It is a mere scratch, nothing to worry about.” Estel replied dismissively and, attempting to turn Elladan’s focus away from himself, he added: “Not like your injuries. Truly you gave me a scare for a while.”
With that, Estel proceeded to describe what had occurred since he had awoken in the cave; the position he had found Elladan in, the second cave-in and the nature of his injuries. He avoided mention of how he had healed Elladan, for he knew not what to say.
As Elladan listened, his eyes grew wider in disbelief and he exclaimed in wonder: “How is it possible that I live?”
Estel, feeling emboldened by their circumstances, murmured under his breath, knowing full well that Elladan would hear him. “No doubt it is due in no small part to your stubborn nature and your hard head.”
While Estel had gained greater confidence in his own abilities as he spent the last few years on patrol, ever had he remained soft-spoken and deferential, and Elladan found himself smiling a little at the youth’s new-found boldness. Pausing to inspect the make-shift splint, Elladan also had to admit to himself that Estel’s ingenuity under extremely difficult circumstances was impressive.
However, Estel had avoided answering the question to his satisfaction, and so Elladan pressed the issue. “Perhaps it is, but I suspect that even my ‘stubborn nature’ must have had a little help, for as you describe it, my condition was grave. You had no medical instruments, no healing herbs, not even so much as a fire to boil water and yet you seem to have pulled me from the brink of death. What did you do?”
Estel knew Elladan well enough to understand that he would not let the subject drop without a satisfactory answer, and so, accepting defeat, he described as best he could what had taken place.
“You have done this?” Elladan could not conceal the wonder in his voice.
Feeling his face flush, Estel lowered his eyes and responded softly: “It was no more than I have seen your own father do on many occasions.”
Now the two fell silent, for neither wished to speak further. Once again, Estel was overcome by a feeling of deep exhaustion, and he succumbed to his need to sleep, leaving Elladan to his thoughts.
Elladan found his mind sifting through his memories of Estel’s childhood. Ever since Arathorn had died when Estel was but an infant, Elladan had sought to protect the boy from all possible harm. Still he felt acutely the guilt of Arathorn’s death and truly he did not believe his heart could bear to face again the untimely death of one of his human kin. Always he had pressed Estel to improve his skills, for Elladan was well aware that his very life could depend on the stealth of his step and the accuracy of his aim. Perhaps, though, he had been too harsh on the boy at times.
Now he was beginning to understand that while he had ever diligently scanned the horizon, he had missed what was directly before him. Truly Estel had proven himself fully on this mission. Not only had he shown impressive courage, quickness of mind, and ability in battle, he had displayed level-headed fortitude under pressure and amazing ability as a healer.
Elladan thought again of how Estel had healed him. That degree of skill he had seen only in his father before. He had known, of course, that Estel displayed a natural talent for healing, but never had he grasped the full extent of the boy’s gift. Truly, his hands were the hands of a healer, and perhaps, as Elrond had oft foretold, the hands of a king.
As Elladan gazed upon the sleeping youth with a new found respect, the dismal cavern seemed to grow brighter. Much to his amazement he saw on Estel’s head a magnificent white winged crown, bejeweled and glowing, and there before him in the image of a young man was a vision of the kingdoms of men restored to their former glory and of all that was pure and good in men.
The vision was gone as quickly as it had appeared and again the cave was dark. Elladan sat in silent contemplation, deeply in awe of what he had seen. The vision had left him with one gift; he understood now with deeper clarity than ever before his purpose. Truly the days grew darker and Elladan knew that a time of great challenge lay before them all. In the darkest of times, in the shadow of the greatest evil, he now knew with certainty his place, fighting alongside the best of men, and in particular, at the side of one great man destined to be king.
Feeling slightly dizzy and lightheaded, Elladan was drawn from his deep thoughts back to their current predicament. He could feel that the air was growing thin and stale. It was becoming ever more difficult to draw breath. Little good would his vision do him if they were both to perish in this dismal place.
Calming his thoughts, he focused his mind on reaching out to his twin. A slight smile graced his lips as he felt his brother’s strong and healthy fea. The smile faded, however, when he also sensed Elrohir’s desperation. Elladan whispered words too softly for Estel, still deep in sleep, to hear: “I know you are coming for us brother, I but ask that you move with even greater haste, for I fear that if we do not soon taste fresh air, this cave will surely become our tomb, and all our efforts to keep hope alive will have been in vain.”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.