View/download TXT file
Elurín cast one longing glance back at the little cottage he'd almost come to regard as home, before following his brother into the forest. He'd liked the Men, Orlin and Helgor; he'd felt safe and comfortable in the simple, caring household. In truth, he was afraid of leaving them to venture into the wilds once more, even if it was the only way he could stay with his brother. But he would never leave Eluréd. His brother was all he had left.
He sighed and turned his eyes to the forest floor, wary of traps and snares; Orlin apparently had several around here, laid in the woods near his house to catch rabbits and sometimes pheasants. It was no problem for the Man, as he knew where they were all located, but Elurín was constantly aware of the risk of stepping on a cleverly concealed snare by mistake.
His hand went to the knife on his belt. "Every trapper needs a knife," Helgor had said, presenting them each with one. "To skin his catches, to gut and later eat them, to cut down animals caught in rope-snares, in case he has to defend himself…" - the youth had spent several minutes listing the many uses for a belt-knife. Elurín had been sceptical back then, but now its presence was reassuring. Eluréd was walking with his knife drawn already.
Then the younger twin touched the pouch he carried beside the knife, as if to confirm that it was still there. It had been a present from Ada, a leather purse which closed with two silver buttons. Elurín liked to collect things in it, and it had been bulging with miscellaneous items the day Doriath fell. He had pieces of brightly coloured thread, shrivelled leaves that he'd once thought were funny shaped, snail shells and pebbles, acorns and feathers, lost brooches and hairpins, a gold-inlaid teaspoon, a cork from a wine bottle…and at the bottom, he'd found a mithril pendant.
He no longer had the mithril pendant. He'd left it on the kitchen table in the cottage. His heart told him the Men deserved some token of payment for their kindness. He'd noticed as he placed it there that there was another new object in the kitchen: a little carven badger with sad, staring eyes.
Unbeknownst to him, that pendant was worth more than either Orlin or Helgor had possessed at any time in their lives before.
He lost track of how long they walked for, scrambling across leafy dells and paddling through shallow, windy brooks. Eventually, though, Eluréd stopped. Just stopped, right in the middle of a well-trodden trapper's path. He unslung the knapsack which he'd been carrying over his shoulder and dropped it on to the mossy forest floor. "This is far enough," he said quietly. Rummaging through the pack's contents, he extracted a small loaf of bread and, tearing it in half, handed a chunk to his brother.
They ate slowly, in silence, taking quick sips from a waterskin which Eluréd had 'borrowed' from Orlin. Morning came, wan and bluish, brushing the leaves of the bracken. Elurín leaned his head on his brother's shoulder. "What now?"
Eluréd regarded him with an odd expression, as if he had given the matter no thought. He said nothing for a long time. Elurín felt the beginnings of tears - he was weary, still hungry, and keenly aware of how alone they were, effectively lost in the great forest.
When Eluréd spoke again, it was in a voice that was cold and flat, as if another spoke with his tongue. "We survive. And one day, we shall take back Menegroth, as is our right."
Elurín flinched at the shrill shriek, dropping the basket of wild fruits he'd been gathering. "Brother?!" The basket, which he had painstakingly woven from leaves and grasses, split as it bounced on a gnarled root, but he paid no heed to it, nor to the spilt fruit. "Eluréd?!"
In the weeks they had spent living wild in Doriath, falling back on the natural wood-lore of their people and the knowledge Elurín had acquired from Helgor, the forest instinct had blossomed in them until it came as easily as breathing. Elurín had fallen into the habit of moving silently through the woods, even when there was no danger close, but now in his haste his feet crushed twigs and scattered dry leaves as he raced towards the source of the sound.
Eluréd was sprawled on the leaf litter, his face deathly pale. He was shaking convulsively. "Brother?" Elurín asked, squatting beside his twin.
Eluréd pointed mutely at his feet. Elurín's hand covered his mouth as he gasped in horror. A gin trap, ugly and cruel-looking, was closed round his brother's ankle, its vicious teeth already stained with blood. He remembered Helgor's opinions on the traps. "I'd never use them myself. They're just cruel; they can sever a beast's leg, and then it'll drag itself off into the forest to die slowly and in agony, of blood loss or infection." He shuddered, thinking of the harm it may be doing to Eluréd now. This trap was old, rusting; some of the teeth had snapped off.
"What do I do?" he asked, an edge of panic in his voice.
Eluréd's answer was more a growl. "Get. It. Off."
Elurín swallowed the bile which appeared at the back of his throat and moved closer to examine the mechanism. The only way he could see to get the jaws apart was to prise them. Was he strong enough? He looked back at his brother. Eluréd's eyes were pleading. Sighing, he inserted his knife between the jaws and used it as a lever, praying the blade wouldn't snap. Slowly, the jaws began to release their hold.
Naturally, the caused the wounds they had inflicted on Eluréd's ankle to bleed more heavily, and the blood got all over them both. But eventually Elurín managed to get them wide enough for Eluréd to escape.
The trouble was, he brother didn't move. "Eluréd?" he asked anxiously. Eluréd looked conscious, but he wasn't reacting to his brother's voice. Elurín tried again. "Eluréd? I can't let go, or it'll shut again. You have to pull your foot out. Eluréd!"
There was a hiss of pain and, with effort, the older twin withdrew his foot from the jaws, shutting his eyes and biting his lip. Elurín let the trap go.
Rather than snapping totally shut as he would normally have expected, the trap jammed with a small gap between the jaws. Strange… Elurín inspected it, and saw the rust had got into the hinges as well, restricting how far the jaws could close. That was probably the only reason, in retrospect, why it hadn't broken straight through the bone in Eluréd's ankle.
Elurín turned back to his brother. The older twin's face was ashen, and he was clearly in agony. The wounds would need binding to stop the bleeding, and properly dressing as soon as possible. "Eluréd, I'm going to have to look at that. This might hurt a bit…"
"Only a *bit*?" The initial shock was starting to wear off, and Eluréd snarled a curse no Elfling his age should even know.
The teeth had cut deep; in a couple of places, Elurín thought he could see bone when he used his sleeve to absorb some of the blood. The wounds were jagged and dirty. He tore strips off his shirt to bind them tightly, already thinking with dread of the walk from here to the shelter they now called home. "We have to get you back," he said softly as he knotted the last piece in place.
Eluréd nodded weakly, realising there was little point protesting.
"Let me help," Elurín offered. Leaning heavily on his brother, Eluréd managed to pull himself shakily upright, but could take no weight on his injured foot. "We'll make it home together."
'Home' to them was a makeshift shelter of interwoven branches, waterproofed and insulated with layers of peat, moss and packed earth. The floor was kept covered with a layer of clean, dry bracken fronds, and there was a fire-pit in the middle, from which smoke now curled and spiralled upwards in lazy circles to disappear through a hole in the ceiling. The shelter had been built leaning against a great oak whose trunk had been hollowed out by time, so there was enough space for them both comfortably. Eluréd sank to the floor, resting his head against the warm wood of the tree.
Easing off Eluréd's boot and leggings was no easy affair; the blood stuck them together and Eluréd flinched ever time his twin touched close to the injury. Elurín washed the cuts as thoroughly as he could, disliking how cold Eluréd's foot felt in his hand. More of his shirt was sacrificed to bandage it again; he only had a single spare garment, but determined that it would have to suffice. When the blood flow finally seemed to ease, he cleaned off his hands and shuffled to sit close to his brother. The older twin was still shaky; Elurín held him close, whispering soothing words.
Eluréd relaxed in his brother's arms, accepting the embrace. "How are we going to cope now?" he asked after some time, in a small, distant voice.
"Brother, I'll never leave you, and I promise I'll always take care of you," Elurín said solemnly. His parents, had they seen it, would have marvelled at such profound sincerity in the voice of one so young. He stroked his twin's hair, and gently kissed it as his Naneth used to do to him when he was afraid or sad.
Eluréd sighed softly, and closed his eyes.
"Brother! Look what I've brought you!" Elurín pranced brightly through the doorway, holding a male pheasant by the feet in one hand and a large, nondescript bundle tucked under his arm.
Eluréd struggled awkwardly to his feet to inspect his brother's offerings. Though his ankle improved steadily as time went by, it was still painful, and the injuries had caused a loss of sensation in his foot, so his balance was poor. Elurín dropped the pheasant and caught his twin's elbow when he saw Eluréd wobble.
"What *is* that?" the elder twin demanded, indicating the bundle.
"Look…" Elurín replied, grinning, and unrolled it across the floor. The bundle turned out to be two thick, woollen winter cloaks, two embroidered shirts, and two pairs of sturdy boots. And several small loaves of bread.
Eluréd regarded the items with suspicion. "Where did you get them from?"
Elurín grinned even more widely. "I think we left tracks when we ran away from Orlin's house. He must have followed us; I found these left just inside an abandoned badger sett. And this was with them." He produced a wooden figure from inside his shirt. A carven badger, with sad, staring eyes.
That proved to Eluréd who had supplied the items, and he sighed. Orlin was not a rich Man. On the other hand, he supposed, he and his brother had almost nothing. "It was thoughtful of them, don't you think?" Elurín asked. His tone was bright.
Eluréd had noticed in recent weeks how his brother seemed to be getting over the deaths of the rest of their family far more quickly that he was himself, and Elurín's high spirits today served to confirm this. Perhaps it was because Elurín was able to keep himself occupied, gathering food for them both, bringing in fresh bracken for the floor of the hut, fetching firewood and clean water, whilst Eluréd, still barely able to stand, had many hours each day when he was alone and had nothing better to do than reflect upon their losses.
"Yes, it was," he agreed. Certainly the clothes would be valuable this winter, and the bread could feed them for several days. So why did the gift make him feel so uncomfortable? "How are we to repay their kindness?" he asked. That was it. Compared with Adar's halls and glittering caves, treasure, gold and jewels, Orlin and his son were poor. But now, Eluréd and Elurín needed the presents. He didn't want to live off charity; that was one of the reasons why he had fled the house. But when he had nothing to give, what other choice was there?
"We could gather some of those lovely red apples from the trees beside the meadow," Elurín suggested hopefully. Eluréd smiled at this 'we'. They both knew it would have to be Elurín alone; Eluréd certainly could not walk that far. Elurín never complained of the extra responsibilities he'd ended up having to take on, and aside from the odd siblings' quarrel, always did his best to be cheerful, even when Eluréd was feeling anything but.
"Or…" Eluréd had an idea. He moved some of the firewood in the corner and brought something out.
"You made that?" Elurín asked, impressed.
"No, the Valar have been visiting me at night and they made it," Eluréd replied drily, with a raised eyebrow. "I've found myself with a lot of free time."
"It's good," said Elurín emphatically. Eluréd didn't think It was anything special, just a mat woven from dry grasses. He'd chosen the colours of the stalks very carefully to make it as decorative as possible, but still he considered it crude. Elurín apparently disagreed. "I'll never joke about your Elven blood not showing itself again - you're an artist, brother." His smile was so bright the older twin had to smile back. "Hmmm - it's probably the last warm day we'll get this year. Do you want to go for a swim?"
Eluréd grinned and nodded, allowing his brother to place an arm around his waist for support. Perhaps they stood a chance this winter, after all.