One Footstep Nearer to Home by thequickbrownfox

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Chapter One


The late afternoon sun shone down onto a clear deep pool that had formed at the base of a small horseshoe shaped cliff. A cascade of water flowed from the land above, billowing gently over the smooth surface of the rock face and gracefully entering the sunlit pool below. On the farther side, the water wound its way around several large rocks before passing beneath the shadow of the surrounding forest.  


Near the edge of the forest, on the grassy banks of the pool lay a pile of clothes along with two pairs of identical boots. The owners of these items were currently relaxing within the pool, resting against a set of rocks located just to the right of the cascading waterfall. The descending water flowed gently over their shoulders soothing their tired muscles.


Elrohir sighed quietly, grateful for the hot summer weather that allowed the air to still be warm even as a sun began to descend among the trees. Through he was an elf who had endure many mid-winter swims over the centuries, nothing could beat the warmth and relaxation a sunny summers day could bring to a tired body. He and his brother were returning to Imladris having spent most the winter wandering with the Northern Rangers. It had been a hard winter for men, as a poor crop during the previous summer had caused food shortages in many of the villages. The illness that followed had led to the death of three young children and several elders. Elrohir and Elladan had done all they could to help. However they could not prevent the grief that had descended among the Rangers as they watched loved ones die.


It had been a guilty relief when the twins had received a summons from their father asking them to return home for the mid-summer festival. Elrohir knew that the Rangers had not thought poorly of them for leaving. For men death was a common occurrence, one could be expected during harsh winters, and even through the grief was painful each time, they would overcome it and move on, as was necessary due to their short lives. For elves, however, it was not natural to see death so often; only in great battles could elves dies so often with many others following them, unable to recover from the grief it caused. Illness was unknown within the elven world and to see men suffer and die, often from preventable diseases, was something that Elrohir could never get use too.


An unexpected splash of water upon his face drove his mind from these thoughts. Sitting up he glared at his brother who was grinning deviously. Elrohir returned the grin preparing for whatever was about to come. Suddenly Elladan leaped at him laughing, driving both of them into the deeper water. They wrestle about trying to overcome the other before they returned splashing to the surface laughing uncontrollably.


“You looked like you needed a dip, brother” Elladan said between laughs.


“I was just thinking” protested Elrohir, sending a final splash at his twin before he turned to swim towards the grassy bank where they had left their clothes.


“Well, from the way you looked, it seemed as if you needed a distraction” replied Elladan, as he too began to swim to the shore.


“Yes, you are right” Elrohir agreed reluctantly as he reached the bank “It wasn’t something I wanted to think about at the moment”.


“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Elladan in concern as he too grasped the bank. He knew of what was troubling his brother as it also troubled him as well. When he had seen Elrohir expression changed from one of peace and relaxation to one of guilt and despair, he had known that he needed to do something to distract his twin.


“No, it’s fine” replied Elrohir as he pulled himself from the water and laid down upon the soft grass. “It’s nothing”


“Are you sure?” asked Elladan with slight concern as he joined his twin on the ground beside the pool.


“Yes”


Knowing that Elrohir would talk to him about it eventually, Elladan allowed the moment to pass into silence. The last few months had been difficult and he was glad to be heading home.  Only a couple of days longer and he would be able to have a hot bath and sleep in his own bed. He was very much looking forward to it.


Once the sinking sun had dried their naked bodies, they rose and dressed. As Elladan pulled on his boots, Elrohir searched the rocks near the pool for the sandalwood soap they had left there when they had first entered the pool to wash. Once he had located the soap, he tucked it into his bag, before returning to where Elladan was still sitting lacing up his final boot.


“Come on, El. At this pace, it will be dark by the time we reach the campsite” Elrohir said light-heartedly as he watched his twin.


“It’s your fault that we set up camp so far from here. I told you that we should camp closer to the pool” grumbled Elladan as he bent to pick up his pack.


“And I told you that there is no protection here from any storms that may arise during the night” answered Elrohir. “Anyway the walk will do you good” he continued as he wacked his brother in the stomach, none too gently, before passing quickly into the trees.


Seeing the smirk upon his brother’s face as he turned back towards him, Elladan grinned dangerously “Watch out, little brother” he called out before hurrying after his twin. He heard laugher ahead of him and soon they were racing though the forest, each trying to get to the campsite before the other.


After only a few minutes however, Elladan heard a cry from his brother just ahead. With his heart racing, Elladan sped up and soon came upon Elrohir who was sitting uncomfortably upon the ground clutching his ankle.


“What happened?” he exclaimed as he knelt beside the other elf, already beginning to check for any injuries.


“I think something bit me” Elrohir replied unsteady, breathing rapidly. As he removed his hand away from his right boot Elladan could see two large puncture marks in the thin fabric of the boot. Quickly standing up he scanned the surrounding undergrowth searching for some sign of what he could had bitten his brother. Seeing movement among the leaves he discovered a Yellow-backed Dragon snake slivering away.


He sighed in relief as he turned back to his brother. “It was only a Dragon snake, I think.” He said as he helped his brother to stand. He felt Elrohir relax beside him as he too sighed in relief. Both of them knew that Dragon snakes were harmless to elves. Through it was rare to be bitten by one; it would only cause an elf to fall into a deep sleep, which lasted for about half a day. If the elf was alone, they might be in trouble as they would not be able to protect themselves from other threats. However with another elf present it would only cause a slight inconvenience, as only one would be able to take the watch for the night.


“How are you feeling?” Elladan asked as they began to move slowly towards their campsite. He could already feel his brother beginning to lean lightly against him as they walked.


“I’m beginning to get tired and my ankle is hurting. But apart from that I feel alright” Elrohir said honestly, though he did not tell his brother just how much his ankle was hurting. It felt as if his skin was burning.


“I’ll tend to it once we get back to the campsite. Just focus on keeping awake. I do not want to have to carry you the rest of the way. You’re much too heavy” Elladan replied lightly, hoping to alleviate the worry he could sense in his brother. However, he too was growing concerned though he did not know why. He had seen Dragon snake bites before, as uncommon as they were, he had been around for many centuries and every now and again an elf would come back from a patrol having been bitten. Even Glorfindel had received a bite when Elladan and Elrohir had been very young. Once they had known it was nothing serious, they had been amused seeing the great warrior stumble up the stairs leaning upon their Adar shoulder. They had watched him fall into a deep sleep, even as they plotted their next practical joke they could do against him. A wave of guilt rush though Elladan heart as he remember finding out only later, when they were much older, that Glorfindel had suffered terrible nightmares during that sleep. Their Adar had sat up all night with him, trying to keep him calm.


However this reaction to a Dragon snake bite was unusual. No other elf they had known had suffered from such nightmares. Their Adar had concluded that it may have been due to the events in Glorfindel’s previous life that had caused such a reaction. Elladan was certain that nothing like that would affect his brother, though something at the back of his mind was still causing him concern. He just didn’t know what it was.


He was abruptly pulled from his thoughts when he felt his brother stumble beside him. He quickly grabbed him preventing him from falling and held on as Elrohir regained his balance.


“Can you make it, Ro?” he asked “It’s not too much further”.


“I’ll be okay” Elrohir replied drowsily. “I can make it”.


Elladan was tempted to carry his brother the rest of the way. He knew that he had joked about it earlier but he had not realised just how fast the snake bite would affect his brother. Most of the elves he had known that had been bitten had been able to walk for some time before succumbing to the deep sleep. He did not know why his brother was being affected so fast.


Luckily it wasn’t long before they reached their campsite. Elladan was glad that they had organised everything before they had left to wash. It meant that he wouldn’t have to seek firewood or water and leave Elrohir alone. He helped his brother to laid down on the blankets that were already set out. His brother’s eyes were already closing, but Elladan was determined to keep him awake for just a while longer, until he had seen and tended to the injury.


“Come on, Ro. You need to keep awake. Just for a while longer” he said softly shaking his twin.


Elrohir looked up at him with weary eyes, a small smile upon his face. “I will try” he said sleepily as he tried to sit up so that he could keep himself awake. Elladan helped his brother to sit up, resting him against a nearby tree. Then he quickly got a fire going in order to boil water. Sitting down next to his twin he gently untied the laces of Elrohir’s boot and slipped it off. Already he could see that the puncture wounds were red and angry, though it was unlikely that they would become infected as their elven healing ability usually prevented bacteria from taking hold. Carefully taking a clean cloth and dipping it in the now cooling hot water he delicately cleaned the wound. Elrohir flinched as he did so and abruptly grabbed his hand moving it away from the wound.


“Does it hurt?” Elladan asked in distress, having not realised the depth of the pain “It needs to be cleaned”.


“It burns” Elrohir uttered, his teeth clenching in pain. “It’s getting worse”.


Elladan looked at his brother in concern. “It shouldn’t be painful. Everyone else has said that it was sore, but not painful”


“I don’t know why but it is” Elrohir replied faintly. His eyes were beginning to close as his weariness won out over the pain. “I’m tired, El. I don’t think I can keep awake any …” He was asleep before he could even finish his sentence.


Trying to keep calm, Elladan finished tending the wound, thankful that Elrohir would now be unable to feel the pain it caused. Once he was done and wrapped it, he gently laid his brother back down and covered him with a blanket. Tomorrow once Elrohir had reawakened they would head straight back to Imladris. If they rode quickly and did not stop, it would only take them two days to arrive there. He needed his Adar to tell him that Elrohir would be alright. Just someone to tell him that his concerns were needless, that there was nothing to worry about. It was only a Dragon snake bite, nothing more. For some reason however, he could not accept that that was all it was.


Taking one more look at his brother to ensure that he was sleeping as peacefully as he could be, Elladan rose and check on their horses that were grazing nearby. They had left them there when they had first arrived at the campsite, having decided to walk to the pool. If they had only taken the horses with them, then Elrohir would not have been bitten. They would have now been sitting around the camp fire telling stories and sharing memories of their winter among the Rangers. Now however Elladan was all alone, keeping watch over his brother, as he recovered from the snake bite.


Collecting his bow and sword from their place near his pack, Elladan positioned himself close his twin, preparing for a long night filled with worry and uncertainly. He only hoped that tomorrow would be better.


 




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