March 2006 Birthday Challenge

Lighting Fires

3. Scouts

Elrohir turned to face the woods. He expanded his senses until the trees felt like extensions of his own body. He felt the wind blowing around every leaf, the position of every bird on every branch, the location of each root where it bit into the ground, the spring of the release and the bite of tiny claws as squirrels leapt from tree to tree. Estel was a solid weight next to him as he slipped invisibly through the dappled patterns and trod lightly across the hillside.

Keeping to unpopulated areas of the valley, Elrohir led Estel across a variety of terrain. They snaked through meadows on their stomachs. Climbed up steep, thickly wooded hillsides. Danced between patches of shade in more open woods. Through it all, Estel gamely kept pace, silently and without complaint. Elrohir felt a surge of pride in his brother. He would never be as light as an elf, but his skill, for a Man-child, was impressive. Given more years of experience and an adult's control, he would rank amongst the best of Edain woodsmen. Elrohir, safely in front of Estel, smiled with satisfaction. The boy was already as good as some adult Rangers.

After nearly two hours they had traveled almost half a league over strenuous terrain. Elrohir felt Estel tiring. For all his skill, he was still a boy and began to make mistakes. As Estel clambered over a crooked root, his foot slipped off and slapped against a stone. The sound started a bird out of a nearby bush and it exploded up into the treetops, calling an alarm. They froze for anxious minutes, worriedly scanning the forest for 'enemies'. Not fifty paces later, Estel stepped on a twig that cracked loudly. Elrohir turned in time to see a chagrined wince on his brother's face. He stopped and mimed motions of resting but Estel only shook his head and pointed onward.

Sighing inwardly, Elrohir began working his way towards the stables. He had warned Elladan, while he changed into hunting leathers, that the stables would become a surrogate orc den. Rivendell's stables sat in a bowl-shaped meadow, backed by the high valley walls, a low hill blocking it from the main house. Clambering down from the valley walls behind the stables, they could go either east or west to get a better view of the front and the paddocks.

Elrohir slid into the trees and headed east. He had gone no more than three steps when he felt a tugging on his tunic. Oh, very good! He gave Estel a questioning look.

Estel shook his head and pointed west. He stuck his forefinger in his mouth. Pulling it out, he held it up, pointing to indicate the wind direction on his finger.

"Downwind." Estel's pitched his voice very low and soft, not as a sibilant whisper that would carry farther, and he pointed west, jabbing his finger in the direction he wanted them to go.

Elrohir nodded, smiled a little, and indicated that Estel should go first. Estel's eyes widened. He swallowed visibly and turned to make his way down the slope to the west. With the new responsibility of finding their path, Estel appeared to tap into a hidden reservoir of energy. He took time to cautiously work their way down to a good vantage point. Elrohir stopped. He started to conceal himself better while they reconnoitered, but realized that Estel was still moving down the slope, glancing back over his shoulder and motioning Elrohir forward. Where was the boy going? Elrohir followed.

Flitting from shadow to shadow and dropping to a crawl, Estel moved far down the slope before he finally stopped. Close below the watchers, Elladan, Glorfindel and several other people moved among a small, milling herd of yearlings. Occasionally someone ran their hands down a leg or urged a horse into a trot and discussed its gait as it moved away. Snatches of their conversation floated up to the concealed watchers. Estel turned shining eyes on Elrohir, pleased that he had gotten them so close.

"Orcs," Elrohir acknowledged, mouthing the words almost without sound. "Many orcs."

Estel absorbed this information, looking to Elrohir for clues on what to do next. He was taking this very seriously. Though there had been very little pressure so far, the boy was performing reasonably well. It was time to add another difficulty. Elrohir had had several schemes in mind to increase the problems they encountered as the day progressed, but Estel had handed him an opportunity he had not expected. They were well within bowshot of the 'orcs' at the stables.

Elladan. He called his brother silently. We are here.

Elladan scanned the hillside. He touched Glorfindel's arm and indicated upslope, pinpointing the brush that concealed the watchers. The other elves followed Elladan's gesture and scanned the slope. One of them pointed and waved, calling, "Estel, come down."

"They've seen us!" Estel gasped. "What do we do?"

"They are too many to fight. Run!"

Estel turned and scrambled up the hill, making only a cursory effort to remain concealed, not looking back. Elrohir followed. He climbed only a few steps before he cried out in pain. He clutched his shoulder and, as Estel turned back, collapsed ungracefully onto the ground. Estel slid back down to him. Elrohir yanked Estel down as he bent over him.

"Stay down. I've been hit."

Estel looked disbelieving. Elrohir, using his 'good' hand, pulled open his tunic and exposed a puckered, pale scar between his collarbone and his ribs. "It's deep. Help me." He put a gasp of pain into the words. Though it had happened hundreds of years ago, Elrohir had no trouble remembering, and acting, how it had felt to have that arrow lodged in him. It had grated against bone with every breath, and jolted pain with every step he had taken until the cruelly barbed arrow had been cut out.

Estel reached out and tentatively touched the scar. Elrohir saw him begin to believe, perhaps not that the wound was real, but that it had been real. Scouting forays, for Estel, would never again be only walks in the wood and cleverly outwitting stupid foes.

"Coneflower and comfrey," Estel said, looking wildly around the hillside. "I should have brought some. Or, or, shepherd's purse, marigold. Tea and a poultice. I'll make a fire…"

"Estel!" Elrohir gripped the boy's hand to focus his attention. Apparently there were some lessons he had learned well, but medical treatment would have to wait. "The orcs are coming after us. There is no time. Break off the shaft."

"What? How?" He moved his hands in the air over Elrohir's shoulder.

" Break it off! If you don't think it will crack easily, take your knife, score the shaft, and crack it. Quickly!"

"But… I … if I moved the shaft at all, it would hurt you." There was real distress on Estel's face.

"Less than the shaft moving with my every step. Now, Estel! Do it now."

Estel looked down and away. While his attention was diverted, Elrohir snatched up a stick. When Estel looked back, Elrohir held the stick protruding from the scar as if an arrow shaft were embedded there. Estel gripped the stick and tried to crack it, but the angle was awkward and the stick not well seasoned. Elrohir let out a soft groan. Estel fumbled his knife out of its sheath on his belt and tried to run it firmly enough around to mark the stick. Though the stick was not a real arrow shaft, it still took far more pressure and sawing than Estel expected to score it enough to crack it. Estel grimaced harder at every attempt, as he saw how the motions caused his brother pain. Elrohir tried not to overdo his performance as the wounded warrior. Though he thought himself far more stoic when actually wounded, he wanted Estel to believe in the wound. It certainly seemed to be convincing the boy. When Estel finally grasped the stick and cracked it off, the broken end skittered an inch across his chest. Elrohir sucked in his breath and gave a louder groan. Estel dropped the broken end of the stick and rocked back onto his heels, breathing almost as shallowly as Elrohir.

"Help me up!" Elrohir demanded.

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.

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Gwynnyd

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/14/10

Original Post: 09/07/06

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