To Tell A Tale: A Narrow Escape
1. A Narrow Escape
To Tell A Tale: A Narrow Escape
Pippin looked up resentfully as his door opened again. More healers. More people to fuss at him. More people to tell him to stay in bed. Where would it end?
His visitors this time were Lord Elrond's sons, the twins Elladan and Elrohir. "Well, Pippin," one said – he still could not tell them apart – "how are you feeling today?"
"Much better," Pippin responded automatically. "I haven't coughed once. I will be able to get up today!" He eyed the twins as they moved about his room, trying to work out which was which. It simply wasn't right for any two people to look so alike! They were handsome as well, he supposed – certainly the maidens were all aflutter every time one of the twins spoke to them, or looked at them. Even old Ioreth blushed pinkly when they smiled.
The twin who had first spoken sat on the edge of his bed, while the other poured a few drops of some sticky fluid – more medicine, no doubt – into a glass of water. "I will be the judge of that," the twin on his bed said gently. He placed his hand on Pippin's forehead, and sighed. "You still have a fever," he pointed out.
"It's all very well for you," Pippin sulked. "You're elves. Elves don't get sick!"
"We do not have the same sort of illnesses, but Elladan and I have both had our share of injuries and been forced to stay abed."
That meant that the twin sitting on the bed was Elrohir. Pippin brightened. "What sort of injuries?" he asked ghoulishly. "Battle injuries, from fighting orcs? Tell me, Elrohir!"
"Battle injuries sometimes," Elladan agreed as he approached the bed with Pippin's medicine. "But not always. There were other things – other mishaps – as well."
"What sort of things?"
The twins glanced at one another. "Will you tell him, or shall I?" Elrohir asked in a resigned tone.
"Well," Elladan began. "Do you remember Bilbo telling you about the Enchanted River in Mirkwood?" As Pippin nodded, he continued. "Well, El fell in once. He was asleep for a whole day, and when he woke up had lost his memory of everything that had happened there! And another time he was bitten by a spider and nearly died. And then there was the time … "
"Enough, El!" Elrohir interrupted, laughing. "You make me sound particularly accident prone. You have had your fair share of mishaps too! Do you remember falling out of that tree, when you broke your arm?"
Elladan snorted. "It was your fault. I was only climbing the tree in the first place to get away from you. You were chasing me!"
"And another time," Elrohir continued, ignoring the interruption, "a horse threw him into a river."
"Your horse, brother," Elladan protested indignantly. "Let us not forget that it was your horse!"
Pippin grinned. The twins' bickering sounded comfortingly familiar. It was just like the amiable arguments he had with Merry. What was more, it had distracted Elladan – he had put the medicine down on the bedside table. "Tell me about the horse," he begged. "What happened?" He hoped that if he could keep Elladan's attention for long enough, perhaps the medicine would be forgotten.
"It was many years ago now," Elladan recalled. "And it should have been a straightforward trip. But things are never that simple."
Pippin lay back, listening avidly, as the tale began.
Elladan's journey should have been simple – a visit to a settlement of woodmen, who had recently been granted leave to live beneath Elrond's protection in a remote corner of Imladris; and an opportunity to ride Elrohir's horse Tathren, in an attempt to train him to accept other riders on occasion. But nothing was ever that simple.
It happened with a devastating suddenness. One moment Elladan was riding along the woodland path, enjoying the challenge of a different horse, and the not quite familiar feel and movement beneath him. In the next instant a wide-eyed youngling, on a horse far too big for him, and far beyond his control, rounded a bend in the track at a full gallop.
Elladan reined Tathren back hard, pulling him to one side in a faint hope that the two horses might have a chance to pass each other harmlessly. Amrûn would have responded instantly, but Tathren, protesting at this rough treatment by anyone who was not Elrohir, hesitated for a moment too long.
The track was narrow here, bordered by thick scrub on one side, and by a steep bank on the other, leading down to a swift-flowing river. There was no room. There was no chance to avoid a collision. The other horse, nostrils flared, his eyes wild, slammed into Tathren without slowing or breaking stride.
Tathren was struck, hard, on the shoulder. With a shrill neigh he stumbled and fell on his knees, pitching Elladan over his neck and throwing him headlong down the steep bank. Elladan was aware of a dizzying whirl of colours as he fell, and tried desperately to grab at branches, roots, anything to slow his fall. There was a shock of cold as he plunged into the swirling river. He gasped as he hit the icy water, choking on a mouthful of liquid fire, and pain shot through him as he fell against the half-submerged rocks. There was a blinding flash as his head struck one of the boulders, and then he plunged into darkness.
Pippin drew in a sharp breath. "That could have been bad, Elladan! You could have drowned!"
"Yes, he could," Elrohir agreed sombrely.
"It's what happened to Frodo's parents, you know. They drowned when their boat capsized!"
"Yes, I know," Elrohir agreed again. "El was fortunate that there was someone to haul him out."
Pippin shivered. "Who? What happened next? Where was the boy? What was he doing with the horse? Why …"
"Peace, Pippin, please!" Elladan interrupted the stream of questions with a laugh. "Let me tell my tale, and you will find out. The next thing I knew …"
There were hands pulling at him, shaking him, and a distant voice calling. With a groan he tried to push the hands away; wondering vaguely who would prod at him like this. Pain speared through his shoulder as he tried to move his arm, and he bit back another cry. "Stop it, El," he mumbled. "It hurts!" But the words would not come. Fire spasmed through his chest and he began to choke, coughing up a mouthful of bitter water before he could breathe again, gasping harshly. His head throbbed and spun, and everything hurt.
The shaking stopped, and the voice became clearer. "Are you awake? Can you hear me?" The voice was worried, and totally unfamiliar.
As the realisation dawned on him, Elladan blinked, and tried to force his eyes open. A pale blur hovered above him, a blur that gradually resolved into a face – one that he had never seen before. It took him a while to realise that the face he saw matched the voice he had heard. Elladan blinked again. Leaves danced overhead, flickering against the sky. Slowly he drew his gaze back to the man looking down at him, worry and concern obvious in his expression.
"Can you hear me?" he asked again. "Can you see me?"
Slowly, hesitantly, Elladan nodded. He coughed again, expelling more water, and gasped for breath before he could answer. "Yes," he croaked. Yes, he was awake; yes, he could hear the man; yes, he could see him. He felt sick and dizzy; but yes, he was alive.
The man nodded. "Good," he smiled. "That's good. Who are you? What's your name?"
Elladan thought for a moment, trying to gather his scattered wits. "Elladan."
The man stared at him. "Elladan? Son of the lord Elrond? Are you sure?"
Elladan considered the question again. "Yes," he agreed at last. "I am Elladan."
He closed his eyes once more. The effort of thinking, of speaking, was overwhelming him, and the dizziness and pain growing too much to ignore. It was a relief when the cold and darkness claimed him again.
Pippin was a little confused. "You knew who you were? But I thought you said you lost your memory when you fell in the river?"
"No, no. That was El. And it was a different river. A different time."
He frowned. "It's very confusing. Especially when you keep calling each other El all the time! I think you do it on purpose."
The twins looked at one another with identical raised eyebrows. "We used to, as children," Elladan admitted. "It is not deliberate now, but merely a habit."
"One that is difficult to break after so long," Elrohir added. "Forgive us, Pippin. We do not mean to confuse you. But yes, this was Elladan; and he was fortunate indeed that he was found by such good and kindly folk."
When he next awoke, he was somewhere else. It was dark, but a red glow at the corner of his vision flickered dimly, and he turned his head slowly towards the fire. There was a scent of wood smoke, but it could not quite hide a sourer smell of unwashed bodies. His wet clothes had been removed and he now lay beneath a rough woollen blanket, warm and dry. The sharp stabs of pain in his shoulder, chest and leg had faded into duller aches, but he was still acutely aware of the various injuries.
"Oh, are you awake? How are you feeling? No, don't try to move." It was a different voice, a woman this time. A wooden floorboard creaked as she moved to his side and sat on a small stool. She peered at him by the flickering light of a candle, nodding and smiling.
"Where are we?" Elladan asked her curiously. "How did I get here?"
The woman smiled again, and patted his hand. "My Tom found you. You was hurt quite bad, so he brought you here, to our house. I patched you up, and then waited for you to wake up."
Elladan nodded. "Thank you," he said simply.
She turned her head, and called. "Tom! Tom, he's awake." Returning her attention to Elladan, she patted his hand again and straightened the blanket covering him. "Now you just stay there, and let me look after you. I've some nice chicken soup for you. I'll go and get it."
She bustled off, leaving Elladan alone again. Still a little bemused, he tried to piece together what had happened, and where he was now. Things had occurred so quickly that his memory was confused and blurred, but there had been a runaway horse, and poor Tathren had had no chance to avoid it.
His muddled thoughts stopped dead at that point. Tathren. Where was he?
"Your pardon, mistress!" he called urgently. She turned and gazed at him. "Tathren – the horse I was riding. Where is he? Was he hurt? Did – did your husband find him?"
He waited anxiously, praying that Tathren was unharmed. How could he have forgotten? If anything had happened to Tathren, Elladan would never forgive himself – and Elrohir would kill him.
There was a heavier tread outside, then the man he had first seen – Tom – entered the house. "Hello there! It's good to see you awake again. You look a little better than you did before! Now, don't you worry about your horse. He took a bad knock, but not as bad as you did! He's damaged his leg, so you won't be riding him again any time soon – but you won't be going anywhere soon in any case! So don't you worry."
Elladan breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you. Thank you. He is not my horse, but my brother's. If anything happens to Tathren, Elrohir will kill me."
"Oh now, I doubt that. If he's your brother, he'll be more concerned about you, I reckon," Tom said easily.
Struggling to sit up, Elladan nodded. "Yes. Thank you for your care, but I cannot stay here. My family – they will be worried. I must go home." He pushed himself upright, throwing the blanket back and trying to ignore the pain and nausea that immediately made themselves felt again.
"Now then, you don't want to be doing that!" Tom took a stride towards him and eased Elladan back down.
"But I …"
"Just stay there," Tom insisted. "You've got a dislocated shoulder, broken ribs, a broken wrist and a broken ankle. Barra's patched you up, but you're not fit to be going anywhere for a week or two." He suddenly looked grim. "I pulled you out of the river. If I hadn't come along when I did, you'd have drowned. And I know whose fault it was, too. I saw him. Now, I'll send word, don't you worry. I'll tell Lord Elrond, and your brother. We'll let them know where you are, and what's happened. Now, you stay there, and Barra will give you some of her chicken soup."
Elladan subsided, having the sense to know when he was beaten. Perhaps he would stay – just overnight. His head still ached fiercely, and it was true that he could not move his right arm. He could not ride, and he could not walk – so he would stay. He nodded again. "Thank you," he repeated.
Barra placed a steaming bowl on a table beside the bed, together with a spoon and a platter of freshly baked bread. She eyed him warily. "There's soup here. Can you manage on your own? I'll help if you want."
"Thank you. I can manage, I think." He took the spoon awkwardly in his left hand, and tried the soup. It was warm rather than hot, and soothing to his stomach. He dipped a little of the bread into the broth and ate that, too. He managed about half of the bowl before the effort became too great, and he put the spoon down before he dropped it. "Thank you, mistress Barra," he said sincerely.
She smiled. "You rest now. There's plenty more for later. And we'll send one of the boys to Rivendell to tell your folks. Don't you worry now – just rest."
Elladan would have protested at the way she was ordering him about, but exhaustion was sweeping over him like a wave. He blinked once, then again – and while his eyes were closed, he fell into a dreamless sleep.
"Mmmm, chicken soup! I like that!" Pippin licked his lips. "But my favourite's mushroom. That reminds me, I'm hungry. Is it time for elevenses yet?"
Elladan laughed. "Pippin, you only recently finished breakfast! You cannot possibly be hungry again!"
Pippin looked at him reproachfully. "Second breakfast was nearly an hour ago," he explained simply.
"He is a hobbit," Elrohir reminded his brother. "You remember what Bilbo is like!"
Elladan nodded. "I think, Pippin, that you and Barra would have got on famously together!"
"She sounds like a queen among foresters' wives!" Pippin declared. "I should like to meet her! Now, tell me what happened the next day. And don't forget to describe the food."
The next morning he awoke to bright sunlight streaming in through the open door. The aches and pains had diminished, and his head felt clearer. He sat up cautiously, and flung the blanket back – then pulled it close again even more rapidly.
"Tom!" he called urgently. "Tom!"
The man appeared in the doorway, looking alarmed. "Yes? What's wrong? Are you feeling badly again?"
Elladan shook his head. "No – I feel a great deal better, thank you. But where are my clothes?"
"We took them to wash them, and dry them. Barra's just mending some rips and tears. Will you be wanting them?"
"Yes," Elladan pleaded. "I want to get dressed. I want to get up!"
"Well, Barra will be finished in a minute. In the meantime, she's got some more chicken soup for you – or a stew, if you'd prefer." Tom grinned. "She reckons you need feeding!"
He pushed the pot of soup back on the stove, and rummaged in a small chest. "There. Here's some trews of mine. They won't quite fit, but they'll do for now. And here's a stick." He gave Elladan a knowing glance. "The privy's out the back!"
Elladan nodded gratefully. By the time he returned he still leaned heavily on the stick, but was beginning to get the knack of walking with it. A bowl of soup had been placed on the table, with more of Barra's bread. He sat down again, tired and aching, but triumphant.
Barra bustled back in. "There. I've mended his clothes – oh, you're up!" she scolded. "Did you ought to be out of bed yet?" Her accusing gaze switched to her husband. "Why did you let him get up?" she demanded of Tom.
"He wanted to," he protested.
Her gaze swept them both. "Men!"
Elladan ate silently, hungry now, finishing the soup and all the bread. He looked up at Barra and smiled. "My thanks, mistress."
"Men!" she snorted again – but her glare was softer this time. She averted her gaze while he dressed, then allowed him to hobble out to the front of the house and sit in the sunlight on a bench there.
"You see? You were allowed to get up the next day! Why can't I? It's not fair!"
Elladan ruffled Pippin's hair sympathetically. "My injuries were not so severe, and I did not have any fever. In any case, Barra would not let me move from that bench for the rest of the morning! She kept watch, to make sure I did not stray."
She talked constantly as she worked in the small garden, telling him of Tom, and their sons, and how grateful she was to have the opportunity to bring up her family in the peace and safety of Rivendell.
"Of course, it's not all safe," she added. "There's accidents, and wild animals, and falls. It's how I know how to deal with broken bones. But I can sleep safe in my bed at night – even if Tom and the lads are off hunting. And there's not many places where I can say that!"
At mid-morning she vanished into the house, producing a cake and cutting a thick slice for him. "Eat it," she persuaded. "You need to build up your strength."
As she spoke, a young boy came out of the trees. "I'm back, Ma," he announced unnecessarily. "I found one of the patrols, and told them. I thought it'd be quicker. They said someone would come."
Barra patted his cheek. "Good lad."
"Thank you," Elladan added. "My brother will be most concerned – I should have returned last night."
"Well, at least now he knows what's happened. Will he come himself, do you think?"
Elladan nodded. "I know he will," he said with certainty, and smiled. "I must warn you – you will find his appearance something of a shock. We are twins."
Barra glance at him. "Ah yes, I had heard that. You look alike, then?"
After the mid-day meal – a hearty stew, with potatoes and more bread – Elladan persuaded Tom to take him to where Tathren was stabled. The horse looked up as Elladan approached, then dropped his head again and ignored him.
"I know I am not Elrohir," he apologised. "I wish he was here as well. But he will come soon, I promise."
"I know. I am sorry – I should have taken better care of you. This would not have happened if you had been with Elrohir," he confessed.
Tom watched with a smile. "You talk as if he can understand you!" he laughed.
"Oh, he can. He is sulking because I took him out yesterday – and he is missing Elrohir. Soon, my friend, soon," he promised.
He examined Tathren's shoulder and forelegs. He was bruised, and one leg was slightly swollen; but unburdened, he would be able to walk back to Imladris in a day or so. Holding the stable door open, he let Tathren out into the clearing that surrounded the house.
"I didn't like to let him out, in case he wandered off," Tom said.
"No. He will stay."
Elladan returned to the bench to rest, his ankle, shoulder and wrist aching, and dozed in the warm sunshine.
He woke and looked up as Elrohir rode into the clearing, leading Amrûn behind him. Elladan pushed himself to his feet, leaning on the stick, and limped to Elrohir's side as he dismounted. "El! Thank the Valar! I am so glad to see you!" he exclaimed. "But Tathren – I am so sorry, Elrohir. If only I had taken more care of him – if I had paid more attention I might have been able to avoid the other horse. Forgive me, El – I never meant for him to be injured."
Elrohir cast a swift glance at Tathren, who stopped grazing and walked slowly over to greet him with a snort of welcome. "He looks fine to me," Elrohir reassured him, patting Tathren absently. "Do not worry, El – you are the one I was most worried about! Are you well? Let me look at you. Are these people looking after you?"
Elladan gave a groan. "Aye – too well! Barra is a remarkable woman, but she insists on fussing over me. She keeps feeding me chicken soup, and stews, and cake. I will be as fat as old Dickon Butterbur in Bree if I stay here any longer!"
Pippin's stomach rumbled. "Soup. Stews. Cake," he moaned. "Don't torment me, Elladan! It all sounds wonderful. I don't see what you're complaining about!"
"Because he is an ungrateful wretch, and a most impatient patient!" Elrohir retorted. "Of course, he was far too polite to say anything to Barra."
"Well, of course!" Pippin declared indignantly. "You shouldn't be rude to people who are looking after you!" He blithely ignored his own protests, complaints and pleading to the healers who had cared for him.
"Of course not," Elladan agreed solemnly. Elrohir nodded in silent agreement.
Pippin stared at the twins, wondering if they were making fun of him. "Anyway," he declared, changing the subject hastily, "What happened to the boy? The one whose fault it was? You haven't said anything about him!"
"I will, if you do not keep interrupting me! Allow me to finish my tale," Elladan pleaded. "The boy – he came back home eventually."
Barra came out of the house to greet Elrohir. She stared at him, then looked accusingly at Elladan. "I know you said you looked alike, but still! Now, Tom told me that young Hal's just come crawling back home – he's the one who sent you off the path," she added. "Do you want to see him?"
Elrohir nodded. "I certainly do!" he demanded, his eyes flashing. "Will you send him over?"
"He's here," Tom growled. "I brought him with me. I thought you might want to talk to him! He'd been drinking, too," he added in disgust. "Drinking his Da's ale!"
Hal was a thin, sullen boy, who scowled at the ground. "I didn't steal the horse," he declared. "He's my Da's. And I proved I can ride him!"
"He was out of control, and you know it!" Elladan snapped.
"But I could've managed him! If you hadn't got in the way, I'd have been able to stop him! "
Elrohir took a slow, deep breath – an ominous sign that meant he was on the verge of losing his temper. "And what happened," he enquired in a deadly voice, "when you met my brother on the path?"
The boy scuffed his feet. "He fell in the stream, and I thought he was dead." He hung his head low, and would not look at anyone.
"So you left him there to drown!" Elrohir hissed in fury. "Did it occur to you to see if he was alive? To see if he needed help?
"Who are you to tell me what to do?" Hal sneered, full of bravado. "You don't own this valley!"
"Oh, but I do," Elrohir said softly and dangerously. "You – and your family – are here by Lord Elrond's grace. We are his sons. And in my father's absence, I have the right to give you leave to stay or go."
Hal blanched. "No – please!" He dropped his head again. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I shouldn't have took the horse. And I shouldn't have been drinking. And I shouldn't have left you like that," he added to Elladan. "I thought I'd killed you. I was scared. I'm sorry." He looked up again. "Please don't send us away. My Ma – my sisters – they feel safe here. Not like when we was in Maldon. Please," he begged.
Elrohir hesitated for a long time, making the boy squirm. Elladan could sense his true repentance now; his shame at the blind panic that had caused him to flee; and guilt at the cost his foolish actions would have on his family.
"Please," Hal whispered again. "Not for me – for Ma."
The silence grew. "Very well," Elrohir said at last. "You may stay. But know this. Your actions nearly cost my brother his life. If that had happened, no amount of pleading or regrets would have spared you the wrath of my family. Nothing."
He paused to let the message sink in, then gestured with his hand. "Now go. And I do not want to have you brought to my attention again, or my decision may change."
Hal nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," he gasped. "And I'm sorry!" he added as he fled.
"You won't be seeing that one again for a while," Tom predicted. "He'll keep himself very quiet. Won't dare do nothing else!" He glanced at the sky. "Now, it'll be dark soon. You'll stay the night, of course? Barra's made a fine stew!"
Pippin gulped, looking at Elrohir with wide eyes and a renewed respect. "Would you have done it? Could you have? Would you throw them out? His whole family?"
Elrohir sighed. "I could have done. Sometimes, when I think on what so nearly happened, I am surprised I did not. But despite what he may have deserved, I could not punish his mother or sisters. I made a point, though, of making the patrols in that part of the valley very visible. Hal never knew where the next elf would appear!" He smiled coldly. "Yes, he kept himself very quiet after that!"
Pippin laughed, and tried to swallow the cough that gripped him. Elladan frowned, and stepped forward with the untouched medicine. "Enough, Pippin! Drink this, and lie quietly. Try to rest."
"But I don't want to rest! I want – " he coughed again, and took the medicine with resignation, grimacing as he drank it. It did soothe his cough however, and he lay back weakly. He felt Elrohir's cool hand on his brow, and suddenly a great tiredness rose in him.
"Sleep, Pippin," the elf said softly. "Rest, and you will soon be well."
Pippin's eyes began to close, but as the twins left him to his rest, he raised his head again. "Elladan! Elrohir! You won't forget to tell them that it's time for elevenses, will you?"
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.