Chapter 3 - Strangers
Eluréd was warm, when he had thought he would never be warm again. And there was the smell of something good in his nostrils that made his mouth want to water. As his senses slowly awakened, he could tell that whatever he was lying on was soft and warm, rather than the cold ground that he remembered last.
Elurín! Where was his brother?
Frightened and desperate, he forced himself to wake up more, to actually stir and reach out.
"That is good, little one. Come now, wake up."
He froze; the voice, although it sounded much kinder than that of either of the men who had carried them out into the snow, was that of a stranger. Where was he? Who was this person he was with now? And most importantly, where was Elurín?
A gentle touch smoothed over his head. "You are safe now, little one. The ones who tied you hand and foot have long gone, and they will not find you here. And see? Your brother sleeps close by. Open your eyes, and see that it is so."
Elurín! Eluréd stirred, finding it hard to make his eyes open or his body move, but finally managing the former. And there, just on the other side of a broad chest covered with a thin, linen shirt topped by a number of blankets, lay Elurín, apparently fast asleep. Slowly Eluréd's hand moved to capture that of his twin's, and then, at last, he twisted his head to look up into the face of the one beside him.
It was a friendly face, with grey eyes filled with reassurance, so very different from the faces of Urvaeth and the others who had come into his home, killed – killed! – Nana and Captain and probably Ada too. The memories of the crumpled bodies and stench of something nasty, and the aches of where he'd been hit on the head and held so cruelly by the upper arm, were overwhelming.
His eyes darted back to his brother, willing him – attempting to force him – to awaken too, so that he wouldn't be alone facing these… these… strangers. Strangers did horrible things, strangers hurt.
"There you are," the stranger said, his accent gentle and familiar. It was the first thing that had sounded right, Eluréd suddenly realized, for the strangers that had hurt him and the others had sounded… different somehow. "Can you tell me your name, young one?"
Eluréd shuddered. If this stranger knew who he was, would he want to hurt him then? He shuddered again, closed his eyes and tried not to cry. He wanted his Nana and Ada, and he wanted Elurín to wake up. He didn't like being all alone, with a stranger pressed close and between him and his brother.
But the tears wouldn't stop.
"It is all right to cry, child," the gentle voice continued to soothe. "You have been through something horrible, I am certain. But it is over now, I give you my oath. You are safe, and I will allow none to harm you, for as long as I live."
Eluréd blinked his eyes open at that to stare at this stranger. Don't make promises like that, he wanted to shout. They will come, if they know we are alive, and they will do to you as they did to Nana…
A small sob escaped before he could silence it, and then another. I want my Nana!
A large hand swept up from behind and beneath him to hold him just a little closer to the stranger, whose head bent and whispered soft words of comfort that did little to fill the huge empty spot where Nana and Ada and even Captain had once been.
"Are they awake at last?" That was a woman's voice, but still Eluréd flinched at the unexpected sound.
"One of them," the stranger hold him replied in the same, soft whispering voice. "And sore afraid."
"That is not surprising." Eluréd could hear the sound of fabric, and the brush of footsteps against a wooden floor. He cringed as something touched his back, not intending to huddle closer to the stranger but having nowhere else to go to get away. "Imagine being taken from your home, tied up like a deer for the spit and left alone and helpless. And now he wakes up to people he's never met. He probably does not know what to think or expect."
Whoever this woman was, she understood him well enough, Eluréd decided. He still wasn't happy, however, when that woman sat down on the edge of the mattress, trapping him. His body finally began to respond to him, and he began to squirm to try to get loose – to get to Elurín.
"Let him go, Narthan," the woman said quietly. "He is frightened and wishes to be near his brother."
The man – Narthan? – held still and didn't restrain him at all as Eluréd struggled to climb over him, and then actually scooted closer to the woman so that he could have more room with his brother. Eluréd pulled Elurín away from the man and close to him, and then stared at the two strangers. What would they do to them now?
"Be a little careful with your brother, child," the woman said, her voice going softer. "He has a broken arm that I have just splinted."
Eluréd looked down. Sure enough, there were two thin and well-sanded pieces of wood tied to his brother's left forearm. When he looked back up at the woman, he felt a funny mix of fear and gratitude.
"Are you hungry?' she asked him then.
He flinched back, away from her. He wasn't leaving his brother again!
"No, no," she soothed, a hand held out as if to touch him, which she withdrew when he pulled as far back away from it as he could. "You do not have to leave your brother. I can see staying with him is important to you, is it not?"
Eluréd just looked at her. What could he say? He had been told to be silent, and the side of his head still ached some from where he'd been hit for not doing as he'd been told. His stomach answered for him instead by growling.
The woman smiled. "I will take that as a yes," she said in a very matter-of-fact way that sounded all too much like Nana. He was glad that she had gotten up and turned away, so that she didn't see the tears, or him wiping them away quickly. He had heard the bigger boys at home teasing one of their friends that "big boys do not cry like babies;" and he was no baby. But it was just so hard not to…
His gaze flicked to the man – Narthan – who continued to watch his every move. "I will say nothing," the man whispered very softly, as if he could tell what Eluréd was thinking.
Eluréd shuddered and held tightly to Elurín's limp body as it lay so still, his brother's head still pillowed on Narthan's arm. This was wrong! It was all a bad dream – it had to be! He would wake up soon, and he would be home, in their room with the window that looked out over the hillside sloping away, and Nana would come in and give him a hug…
Perhaps if he closed his eyes, maybe he could get back to sleep again so that he could wake up in the right place. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead hard into his brother's shoulder, trying with all his heart to fall asleep and make these strangers go away.
Then a delicious smell came close, making his stomach grumble more loudly and bringing his eyes open again. It hadn't worked; he was still in this strange place – it looked to be up in a tree, of all things! – with the strange people. And the strange woman was back, with a small wooden bowl with steam rising from it that smelled…
"Here," she said, holding the bowl out to him. "This will do you good."
Whatever it was, it had nuts and berries mixed with strange, brown nuggets, and at the edges lay a little bit of milk. Eluréd looked back up at the woman, wondering if he truly dared to trust her, only to have his stomach announce its opinion loudly again. The woman's smile grew bigger when he carefully reached out and took the bowl from her.
He took a tiny, cautious taste; it was good.
"Have they told you anything yet?"
Galenas shook her head and looked over her shoulder at the two boys. Physically, they had recovered as much as possible, except for the broken arm on the one. Emotionally, however…
"Not a word," she told Gwirith, Lathron's wife. "I am not certain they trust us enough to speak to us yet."
"Poor mites! One can only imagine what they have been through."
Galenas nodded and turned back to stirring the heavy pot of venison stew that would be disbursed throughout the settlement when done later that day. "One day, perhaps, they will tell us – if they can. Until then, all any of us can do is to let them discover they are safe here."
It had taken days to convince them to climb down the spiral stairs to join with the rest of the settlement during the day. The child who had been the least injured acted very much the protector of the other, and fought being separated from his brother for more than a moment or two. She was fairly certain the boy had even forced himself to withhold his bodily excretions to coincide with his brother's needs, just so that they could remain together on the trips down the stairs and into the forest.
Not a word had either of them spoken, not to give a name nor explain anything. If pressed, both would end up with expressions filled with such horror and sadness that she didn't have the heart to push anymore. She thought, once or twice, she had heard very soft whisperings coming from the single bed that Narthan had quickly pieced together for them, in which they lay with arms wrapped tightly around each other.
And now, even though they had joined with the rest of the settlement, they sat huddled together in an out of the way corner where they could observe the activity around them without being obvious. When approached by other settlement children, both would tuck their heads together and turn inwards toward each other, obviously rejecting any and all gestures of inclusion.
She watched Narthan descend from the talan, having changed from his hunting suedes into warmer leather. Her husband had been quite loath to leave the boys with her to go hunting with Lathron, and he'd returned just in time to enjoy what little warmth was left in the wash basin from morning ablutions. He caught her glance and smiled at her, then let his smile widen and walked across the clearing to where the two little ones sat together on a single stump.
"Have either of you ever made snow ladies?" he asked lightly.
Both boys were startled, and the one with the broken arm slowly shook his head. Galenas put a hand to her mouth to keep from crying out in joy from the first direct – if non-verbal – response from either child to a question.
"Well, it is not a winter without little boys making at least one snow lady!" Narthan gave a casual beckoning wave. "Come on, I will show you how to make them."
She was so proud of him! He took a few steps and then stood, patiently waiting to see whether his lure had worked; and there was a moment when the boys looked at each other and seemed to be communing with each other. And then the braver, protective boy gave a small nod and got to his feet, followed immediately by his brother.
Narthan put out both hands in invitation, and after another long moment of hesitation, the boys separated just enough that they each could take a hand. With a grin of triumph spread across his face, Narthan looked back at her and then led the boys to the nearest snow drift. When her tall husband lay down in the snow and began moving arms and legs, both boys' mouths dropped open, and then one looked at the other with tiniest hint of a smile.
Galenas let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding and turned back to stir the stew, her eyes not quite swimming. Perhaps the boys would recover after all, to become normal children capable of laughter and joy rather than silent and wary guests incapable of anything but flinches and terrified looks in their eyes.
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.