March 2006 Birthday Challenge

Lighting Fires

4. Escaping Orcs

Estel started, gulped and pulled Elrohir's good arm over his shoulder. Wedging his shoulder under Elrohir's arm, he tried to stand. Elrohir allowed Estel to struggle for a few seconds under his full weight before he pushed himself upright. They stumbled together up the slope, Elrohir hugging his injured arm to his side. At the top, they paused for a moment. Draping his good arm over Estel's shoulders, Elrohir leaned a great deal of his weight on the boy, as if he were truly weakened. Estel sagged momentarily under the pressure, then braced himself and surged upright. Under Elrohir's guidance, they set off northwestward towards the stream that ran its way across the upper meadow and down to the Bruinen, moving at the fastest pace the boy could manage while supporting Elrohir. Estel made no effort to conceal their passage, leaving behind them a trail even a blind dwarf could follow.

The trees thinned out as they progressed, giving way to a grassy meadow, dotted here and there with tangled clumps of bushes. Golden-topped stalks heavy with seed spread around them rippling in the wind. The stream ahead ran broad and shallow, the water chuckling happily over the pebbles and scattering of rocks that lined its bed. Though spring floods had carved banks, in some places as much as a foot or two deep, at this time of year the stream was easily fordable for its whole length.

Scanning ahead, Elrohir gave a nod of satisfaction. The last time he had been here a majestic old tree had towered over the water, but he had heard the wood had been harvested after a lightening strike. He saw that nothing remained save a clean stump and a few branches, too thin or twisted to be useful as lumber, which were seasoning for firewood. Elrohir steered the boy's increasingly staggering progress towards a narrow portion of the stream. Here, the water had carved the deepest banks as the land sloped down. Just upstream, the water ran wider and shallower, the banks bounded by tussocks of bushy willow.

"The orcs are tracking us, but we will be safe if we can cross the ravine ahead," Elrohir gasped as he eased himself down a little way away from the stream.

"Ravine?" Estel asked uncertainly, rubbing his shoulder and adjusting the straps on his quiver.

Elrohir nodded, reminding himself to breathe hard and shallowly. He put his hand protectively on his shoulder. "Ahead. It is rocky, deep, and steep-sided. The water at the bottom is too deep and wild to ford. Wounded like this, I might be able to get down, but I cannot cross the water nor climb the other side. And it is too wide to jump. We will have to bridge it somehow."

"Bridge it?" Estel repeated, turning to look at the creek.

"And it will have to hold us both," Elrohir said.

Estel nodded and stood up. Looking around the area, his glance paused for a moment at the willows upstream, then at a clump of bushes farther down. His face grew thoughtful as he scanned the closest bank.

"I need the rope," Estel demanded.

Why the rope?
Elrohir thought. But he said nothing as Estel untied the strings and pulled the rope out of Elrohir's pack.

Estel knelt down next to Elrohir. "Keep watch for the orcs. Do you think you can still fight at all?"

"I will not lie here waiting to be slaughtered. If the orcs come before the bridge is done, I can fight," Elrohir assured the boy.

"This should not take long. Call me if you need help." Estel said. The boy looked confident as he got to his feet and ran towards the bank of the stream.

Elrohir got to his feet and drew his sword, but he turned to watch what Estel did. The boy walked along the grassy banks kicking at the few rocks that showed above the dirt. On his fifth kick he found one that seemed to suit him. Kneeling at the edge of the bank, he shook out a loop or two of the rope and tried to fasten it around the smooth top of the small boulder protruding from the dirt. He quickly tied a knot, but the rope slipped over the top of the rock when he tugged on it. Estel tried to refit the knotted rope around the stone, but it would not seat itself properly. He tugged the knot open, and tried again. And again it slipped off when he pulled on it. Elrohir saw the boy's face begin to redden in frustration, and it took him longer to loosen the knot the second time. Using his fingers, he tried to dig down around the rock, but the thick grass roots defeated him. He pulled out his knife, and hacked at the turf. Elrohir winced as the blade scraped against the rock. The boy fitted the rope a fourth time, stood, and gave it a sharp tug. The rock pulled out of the ground and tumbled down the bank into the stream.

Estel stood holding the rope in his hands and staring down at the shallow new depression in the bank. He untied the knot again and ran upstream. Elrohir watched him with admiration for his tenacity, but still bewildered as to his intentions. Why didn't Estel just ask him how to bridge the stream?

The stream spread very broad and shallow next to the tree. It had been very old and stately, with a trunk nearly three ells around. Estel dropped one end and unreeled the rope as he ran around the stump. He tied a knot, and walked to the edge of the stream. There was only a loop or two of rope left in his hand, not enough to bridge the stream.

Estel stood uncertainly for a moment, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He turned in a circle, scanning the area, again pausing at the branches. His brows wrinkled but he minutely shook his head, and continued his turn. Giving a tight-lipped sigh, he untied the knot and recoiled the rope. He ran downstream, showing Elrohir a smile and an encouraging flap of his hand as he went by.

"Hurry!" Elrohir called. "Orcs will be here soon. I can see them coming out of the valley now!"

Estel dove under the brush at the stream's edge, downstream from the cut. The foliage rustled and thrashed as Estel wormed around underneath. He emerged, rope in hand and tugged it, throwing his whole weight against it. The rope held. He coiled the remaining rope on the ground at his feet and fumbled an arrow out of his quiver. With a few quick twists, he knotted the free end of the rope around the arrow. Nocking the arrow against the string, he drew and aimed it across the stream.

He held his stance for long moments until his hand trembled under the draw. Elrohir saw Estel's shoulders slump as he finally noticed what Elrohir had seen from the beginning. Even assuming the boy had enough strength to shoot an arrow weighted by rope across the stream, only smooth, flower dotted, meadow faced him; no tree stood conveniently across the water to shoot into. The arrow point drooped and slipped off the bow, the shaft falling unheeded onto the ground at the boy's feet.

Elrohir assumed a one-handed defensive stance and faced the meadow. "Estel! The orcs are almost here!"

He heard the boy run up next to him, and saw, from the corner of his eye, Estel nock an arrow, ready to shoot.

"They are coming!" Elrohir growled.

"Tell…" Estel swallowed, and he panted as if he had been running. "Tell me… if I kill … any at all… before I … before we…and, and when I should fall."

Elrohir glanced down at the boy, expecting to see a gallant hero with a cocky grin facing death against overwhelming odds. Instead, Estel's face was drawn into a rictus of despair, tears welling up in his eyes and dropping onto the ground as he focused along the arrow. But his aim was steady.

Elrohir sheathed his sword and knelt down next to the boy. He gently took the bow from Estel's suddenly nerveless hands, as Estel shook with suppressed sobs.

"Shhh, shhh. It's over, Estel. Stop. It is not so bad," Elrohir tried to assure him as he gripped the boy's shoulders.

"I killed you!" The words were wrenched from the boy in a wail of agony. His lower lip quivered and his tears streaked his cheeks under despairing eyes. "The first time… and I'll never… you'll never… I wanted, and now… you'll never let me… Never... I can't…. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." A sob finally escaped, loosing a flood of despair.

Drawing the weeping boy into his arms, Elrohir rode out the storm of sobbing, stroking Estel's heaving back and murmuring soothing sounds into his ear. The exercise seemed to have successfully convinced the boy that he was not ready to venture forth into the Wild, but Elrohir had not expected Estel to take it quite so seriously. From the disjointed snufflings the boy managed to choke out, his distress was equally divided between the fear he would never be good enough to be a real warrior, and fear that his mistakes would kill a brother. At last the boy quieted somewhat and Elrohir held him away so he could look into his face, though Estel would not meet his eyes. He ran his hand over Estel's hair and down his cheek, wiping away a stray tear.

"We do not die today," Elrohir said.

"We don't?" Estel asked raising his eyes, but his lip still quivered.

"No." Elrohir gave him a reassuring smile. "Would you like to see how we get across?"

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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