Secret Garden - Chapter 4

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'Secret Garden'

Chapter Four - The Garden


“I’m sure you find our little gatherings a bit tiresome,” Prince Laegon said smoothly, leading Elladan through the press of people gathered in the Grand Salon after the evening meal. Candles flickered, voices rose and fell, punctuated by sudden bursts of laughter, somewhere music played a slow, sad lament picked out on the harp. Elladan had already attended a handful of these evenings and managed them by putting on what his father termed his ‘party face’, which meant he looked vaguely interested in everything and tried to avoid making eye contact with anyone.

Elladan surreptitiously looked around for Erestor who handled these things perfectly, thanks to years at court in Lindon back in the old days, and narrowly avoided two ladies with hairdos that seemed to include half a forest of leaves, berries, and he could have sworn an artificial bird. He summoned up an easy smile. “No, it’s given me a completely different experience of your father’s kingdom. We always hear stories of hardships and fighting off giant spiders and orcs and never about the more social side of life.”

“No, our life isn’t all gloom and danger, not at all. Is that the general impression people have of The Greenwood then?” Placing a guiding hand on his arm, Laegon looked concerned.

Elladan passed it off with a laugh, noting yet again the habit everyone he met had of calling the place The Greenwood, when Mirkwood was by now the universal appellation. “Oh well, you know your younger brother. He’s the serious type. Probably why he got along so well with my twin.”

“Ah. Yes, he does have a very limited view on things. That is why he’s not here of course, he’s off guarding our borders as usual. Your twin is also more interested in fighting than socialising then?”

“Elrohir?” Hardly. “He’s not the warrior in the family, but he’s training as a healer and takes his studies seriously.” That was about the only thing Rohir did take seriously, but the choice of words meant he was telling nothing but the truth. Outright lies about his twin would have felt wrong.

“So strange that a lord’s son should become a healer. That would not be the way here, of course. My father would never allow such a thing. Then again, your father is not a warrior, so I suppose he sees things – not quite the same.”

“My father no longer bears arms, but that doesn’t mean that in the past he…”

“Oh, I was wondering where you were,” Erestor said in an artificially bright voice, coming out of the crowd to place a light hand on his free arm. It was a deceptively casual gesture, masking a vicious warning pinch. “I’ve been listening to the harpist,” he added to Laegon. “So emotional, such depth of feeling.”

Laegon presented himself as a connoisseur of the arts, which perhaps he was in Mirkwood terms, Elladan thought, resisting the urge to rub his arm where it stung. He wondered, not for the first time, about the skill that had sent Erestor over just in time to stop him mentioning his father’s military career, which couldn’t fail to contrast with the Silvan experience of the series of battles known as the Last Alliance. Even after so long, there were still hard feelings, which made no sense to Elladan who had grown up hearing how old King Oropher had gone about trying to conduct his own campaign with predictably tragic results for his men. He was pretty sure things were remembered rather differently this side of the mountain.

He rejoined the conversation before Erestor ran out of words and Laegon noticed his silence. “Perhaps we can go over and listen for a while if he’s that good, Councillor?”

“Music is very popular in your father’s realm, I believe,” Laegon remarked. “Legolas mentioned there was a lot of focus on music and dance and – I forget what he called them, something about adults dressing up and telling stories?” He sounded politely incredulous and there was again the tinge of disdain when he spoke about what he perceived to be the way of life in Rivendell.

“Plays,” Erestor offered, his smile sincere. He was stunning when he smiled, people often stopped paying attention to the words if he worked at it hard enough. Elladan certainly did. “Plays are our way of bringing history to life or making a point about an important moral lesson. The concept was developed in Lindon, of course.”

“Of course,” Laegon said in a neutral voice. “I can have chairs brought over so we can sit near that brazier? We should be near enough to hear the harpist and still hold a conversation. This way.”

“That’s an excellent idea, Your Highness. Elladan loves music with soul.”

Elladan, who had no time for over-emotional harp music, mentally cursed Erestor’s evil sense of humour, but he had no choice. He followed.

The voice was barely above a whisper. “You’re looking for the Noldo, aren’t you? The Lady’s kinsman. Don’t turn round!”

Elladan was standing next to a grove of bushy little trees, so well-wrought right down to the red berries and tiny yellow flowers that from across the room he had thought them real. The flowers had given it away to him; he always double checked yellow or blue flowers these days. Now he raised his glass to his lips to mask their movement as he said quietly, “Gildor Inglorion. Yes. You’ve seen him? And – who are you?”

Whoever it was, she was on the other side of the pots. “Who I am doesn’t matter. I lived in Lórien and came here with my husband. I – hear things, see things. He works in the Secret Garden, sometimes late at night, and I’ve – I’ve followed him, to be sure he was really…”

The voice, thready and unsure, trailed off. “To make sure he’s going to work as he said he was?” Elladan asked, putting all the empathy he was capable of into his voice. “It must be really hard living in a strange realm and needing that kind of reassurance.”

“I trust my husband,” she replied, her voice firming. “But we’d not been wed long and he kept vanishing in the evenings and I was --- worried. So I followed him. That’s how I found out about it. The door was open and I looked inside. I went in a little way, not far, I didn’t want to get him in trouble, or myself, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I had to go back again, look further. He never talks about it but - it’s there. And last time I went to look at the flowers, I heard them talking about the red-haired Noldo, and I realised who it must be. They have him there, locked up. I didn’t know what to do, but then I saw you, remembered you from your visits to Lórien.”

“What is this – Secret Garden?” Elladan asked, moving closer to the nearest artificial tree and trying to keep his voice low but urgent. They weren’t likely to leave him alone for long, someone was forever coming over to offer him more to drink or little snacks, ask if he was enjoying the music, what he thought of the King’s new cloak… The gatherings in the Grand Salon revolved around gossip and advancement, the two primary interests of Thranduil’s court. It was Elladan’s view, backed up by Erestor, that it was the Woodland King’s way of keeping his courtiers focused on the mundane and away from questions about the food supply and the relative scarcity of lamp oil.

“Ssh,” she hissed. “I don’t know what it’s called, that’s just my name for it. It’s in one of the outer caverns, and the doors are kept locked all the time. Rîwnorn - my husband – is given a key when he has to go in there, and I – my uncle made toys and caskets and such, I knew how to make a copy. I don’t know what they’re doing, it’s something to do with creating new plants…”

“Why would that be so secret? Botanists try that all over the world – in Lórien, at home, probably in Mithlond, though I’m not so sure about them nowadays. That’s …”

“Not ordinary plants. They’re not changing the colours or adding a frill of extra petals or any of those things,” she whispered urgently. “They’re making things like nothing else in Endor. Strange flowers that listen and relay words – I’ve seen them test those – and huge pods that can sense people --- the workers are careful of them, very careful. And there’s buildings in the cave where they do other things, I don’t know what… It’s a bad place, Elrond-ion. And your kinsman is in there. For how long, I don’t know.”

“Where is this – secret garden?” Elladan made a show of examining the berries on the tree, every sense alert for someone coming up behind him.

“I have to go --- It’s on the other side of the library, you follow that long hallway almost to the end, turn left and go down the narrow way and there’s doors… I’ll meet you there. Later. After full-dark.”

“All right. We’ll be there. What’s your name, we’ve not been introduced, have we?” Out the corner of his eye he saw two of Thranduil’s favourites bearing down on him and he raised his glass in greeting, smiling cheerfully.

“Eldueth,” she whispered, her voice fading as she moved away. “Eldueth, once of Lórien. This is a bad place, Elrond-ion. You need to find your kinsman and leave while you still can.”

“We have no business here, there’s no excuse if we’re seen,” Erestor muttered.

“We won’t be caught,” Elladan said with sublime confidence. “We just keep our heads down, try and be inconspicuous and then slip down that passage Eldueth talked about. If we’re spotted we can say we were trying to find the ornamental lake and got turned around. It’s their own fault, dimming the lamps at night to match starlight so everything looks different.”

“This used to be part of my job, I know all about being inconspicuous. Which we aren’t. Why would we be looking for the ornamental lake at this hour? From the stories I’ve heard about your childhood, you can do better than that.” He pulled his cloak more firmly about him as he spoke. It was cold in Thranduil’s palace, which at least gave them an excuse to wear dark cloaks over their foreign clothing. He would have liked to pull the hood up over his tell-tale black hair, but knew better. People always looked when there seemed to be something to hide.

Elladan shrugged. “It sounds like a good sight to visit? We might go find it tomorrow – very romantic.”

“We’re not getting romantic here of all places,” Erestor told him firmly. They’d already had this conversation, but it never hurt to remind Dan, who liked to take chances. “And if Gildor is really there as this girl’s told you, then I’m not sure how much sight-seeing we’ll manage tomorrow. Once we rescue him, we’d need to act very normal indeed, talk to crafters, that kind of thing.”

They walked in silence, passing the library, the outer wall of which was carved with representations of dragons and giant birds. “Um – we’d be staying on?”

“Yes. We have to finish sorting out the trade agreement for your father. Anyhow, if we left we might as well own up that we rescued him, which is as good a way as any to start a war. There’ve been three kinslayings, and it’s three too many. I’m not having any part in setting up a fourth.”

“Yes but, Ery, if they’ve done anything to my --- he’s my cousin, right? What if they’ve injured him? I can’t sit back and pretend nothing happened.”

“Yes you can if he gets away all right.” Erestor snapped. “The whole point of the game is to stare your opponent down, don’t blink.”

“Game?” Elladan sounded startled, and in the half light of Thranduil’s palace, Erestor’s smile was wry. His past held any number of strange, late night escapades carrying their own share of danger, quite a few of them even involving the Noldor prince they were trying to rescue. Thinking of it as a game always helped him keep perspective.

“Of course it’s a game. A challenge. You know how you love a challenge.” He put silk into it; he had been Elladan’s favourite challenge for years. He had wondered if the interest would fade once Elrond’s first born finally got what he wanted, but there had seemed no danger of that so far, they were too well matched and the spice of keeping their affair secret had made sure neither of their interest had faded.

“There’s challenges and there’s challenges,” Elladan muttered darkly.

“You’re a warrior, my battlegrounds have been rather different, that’s all.”

Elladan turned his head, looked at him, nodded. “Hearing about it might not be the same as seeing it,” he conceded.

“Why did she tell you anyhow?,” Erestor asked after they’d walked on a way in silence. “How well did you know this girl?”

“Ha. Jealous? No, truly Ery, I didn’t even know her name…”

“Oh now that’s not something to boast about.”

“No, it was nothing like that. I just saw her around a few times, never even had an proper conversation with her. My guess is she’s scared, wants to help, and – well, she’s from Lórien. Who better to approach than the Lady’s grandson?”


“Jealous, yes.”

“Oh shut up, of course I’m not. How much further, any idea?”

“Just a ways past the library, take a left turn, she said. Maybe the other side of that fountain. Haven’t been down this far before.”

The library stretched along beside them. The main entrance opened onto a square but this was a normal passageway with nothing but a few banners on the facing wall and the regularly placed lanterns to light the way. Were it not for the roof above their heads, they could have been in any town anywhere in Middle-earth late at night. There was no one around, and the quiet made every footstep and every murmured word sound preternaturally loud.

The fountain formed a pause in the passage they were following, not quite big enough to be termed a square or park. A couple of benches faced it and there were a few statues of deer and a pair of ungainly looking birds with huge beaks. “Pelicans, I think,” Erestor said. “Used to get them on Balar.’

Elladan had slowed to look at them. Now he jerked his head to the left. “We’re meant to be going down there, that narrow side passage. That must be what she meant.”

“No light.”

Elladan’s eyes laughed at him. “Scared of the dark? I’ll hold your hand.”

Erestor snorted. “Might not be a bad idea, we need to keep from getting separated. Come on, the later it gets the less chance we can talk our way out of it if someone stops us.”

Gildor had no idea how long he had been in the little room off the garden, it was hard to keep track of time in the dark. Whenever the door opened, the light that flooded his cell was always the same, harshly yellow and unnatural. He never saw its source. Once a day someone brought him food, at which time he had to turn around with his back to the door and his hands on the wall in front of him, otherwise they took it away again. He saw no point in adding hunger to his other discomforts, so he obeyed.

They sluiced the room out and changed the pot every few days. He had to stay facing the wall while this was being done too and grimy water sloshed around his ankles. The first time it happened he had tried to turn round with the idea of making a break for it, and for his trouble had been well and truly beaten.

He heard things though, sitting in the dark. Snatches of conversation, some of it formal and professional, some of it gossip, and together they gave him enough pieces of the puzzle to put together a vista of startling horror. Most of what he heard came from the young girls who were the tenders of the secret garden, girls like the one he had charmed into letting him take just a peek at where she worked. He was good with girls when he was sober, and he had been sober entirely too long now.

He managed to run into her down near the river after days of keeping watch for a likely target, walked with her, talked with her, arranged to meet her again. Noldor royalty was in short supply in Mirkwood, she came back, they kissed under the trees -- well, maybe there was a bit more than kissing involved - and at the end when she had to go back, he asked if he could take a peek at the secret garden she was so careful not to talk about.

'Just a peek' had taken too long, there was too much to see, he had been enthralled in a horrified kind of way. It was one thing to believe rumours and half-glimpsed nightmares, another entirely to see them clear and solid under bright light. This was how they caught him. His famous timing had finally let him down and they descended on him, silent and determined. He managed to run but only a short distance. Then there had been a net and a violent contact with the ground, and being picked up and carried, struggling and kicking, and finally thrown into the dark cell.

He had lain where he fell for a long time, listening for sounds in the darkness. Only when he was certain he was alone did he sit up and go about disentangling himself.

The passage was gloomy, though it was still possible for them to see their way. It ran a short distance, took a sharp turn, then stretched straight ahead, angling slightly downward. They turned the corner, cutting off the light from the main area. Suddenly things became much darker.

“Where exactly did she say she’d meet us?” whispered Erestor, his head close to Elladan’s.

“Just – here. somewhere here. After full-dark, she said.”

“How are we meant to find her in the dark?”

“No idea. Eldueth?”

“Shh, idiot.” Erestor reached over and felt for Elladan’s mouth. “You have no idea what might be out there watching.”

Elladan’s answer was to grip his wrist, swing him up against the wall and find his lips in a deep, demanding kiss. Erestor submitted without thinking, his body responding as it always did to Dan’s nearness. He broke the kiss at last, breathing quickly, but didn’t move from Elladan’s arms. “When I mentioned challenges and living dangerously, this wasn’t what I had in mind.”

Elladan was running a hand slowly up and down his back. “Getting tired of being good. You’re right there next to me every night, just out of reach, sexy as the Pit in silk and velvet and with all that damn hair. Right across the hallway, and neither of us brave enough to take a chance…”

“I’m sure they’re watching us somehow, and I don’t know about you, but I think the general view of same sex love here would be rather like your father’s.”

Elladan’s frustration was almost tangible. “Father’s a prude. Grandmother blessed a union between two girls on my last visit and the only reason Grandfather wasn’t there was because he was off borrowing horses from the Horselords.”

“Borrowing, yes, let us not ever call Celeborn of Lórien a horse thief,” Erestor said, laughing against his mouth. “That would be too terrible. Come on, let’s just go a bit further, give her more time – she might have found it hard to get away. You say she said there were doors?”

Elladan, who usually knew when he was beaten, sighed. “Doors, yes. I wonder if you can see any better down here when the day lights are on.”

“Filtered light? Should be able to. And there are air vents above us and if I’m right, they’re open to the sky. Look up,” he said, turning in the curve of Elladan’s arm, “really look. Can’t you see starlight?”

“Yes – you’re right.” He could feel Elladan smiling. “So I was romantic after all – kissed you under starlight in a deserted passage in Mirkwood.”

“A beautiful clearing watched over by enraptured forest animals might have more of a ring to it, but… look, can you see a line of light down there?”

Elladan released him, took a step forward and then stopped. “That looks like a door open a crack --- what do you think?”

“Could be.”

“Shouldn’t we have seen it before? I could have sworn it was really dark all the way down.”

Erestor shrugged although Dan couldn’t see. “Our eyes needed to adjust? You were preoccupied and distracted me too? It was only open a tiny bit and the gap’s widened?”

“Come on,” Elladan murmured, a hand on his shoulder, “Need to be very quiet…”

“It’s best only one of us goes in there. You stay here, I’ll go and look.”

“Oh no you don’t.”

“She might still be on her way down and then there’ll be no one to meet her. I’ll just take a quick look and come back.”


“Stay here.” Erestor extricated himself and walked on silent feet towards the line of light.

He was in a greenhouse. Strange globes hung from the ceiling, shedding yellow-green light on the scene. The air was warm, humid, and the scents of earth, compost and water struck him as he slid in the part open door and looked around.

There were neatly laid out beds with little paths through them to aid access, an intricate water system sent fine jets of heavy mist over tables holding row upon row of seedlings. White shades seemed to cover windows on the far side, and he would have been happy to bet they looked out onto some secluded corner of the forest. Further down, towards a complex of white-painted wooden buildings that were at odds with anything else in Thranduil’s halls, he could see clumps of bright blue and yellow flowers. The light was different there, more white in the yellow. Sunlight, he thought, fascinated. As the plants got bigger, so they must change the light to help acclimatise them to the outside world.

On his right, away from the buildings, it was darker. He could make out thickets of plants, but there were no lights for growth, no gentle spray of water. He frowned at the darkness, in two minds which side to investigate first. He needed to go back for Dan, decide a plan of action, but perhaps it would be better first to have a concept of the entire area – what had Dan said the girl had called it? The Secret Garden? It was an appropriate choice.

There was something not quite right with one of the beds. Dark shapes moved and swayed in the half light, although there was no wind in this protected area, and faint sounds came to Erestor, unpleasant but difficult to put a name to. He went forward carefully, alert for movement from the brightly lit, white buildings, but there was none. As he neared the thicket that had caught his attention he realised the dark shapes hanging from vines were massive pods, and that there was something on the ground in the middle of the bed.

He recognised the girl by her dress, pale orange with deeper accents, and her long, brown hair. She lay at an ungainly angle as though thrown down and blood seeped into the ground around her. Heavy pods, purple verging on aubergine in the gloom, stretched and yearned down towards her, some even sending tendrils out to touch and attempt to pull her closer.

Erestor knelt just out of reach gathering strength and speed into himself, preparing to launch forward to grab hold of the girl and drag her clear. He doubted she was still alive, but there was only one way to tell. Even if she was dead, he had no intention of leaving her to be plant food. With his attention focused inward, it was only at the last moment that he sensed a presence behind him. Too late he attempted to turn and rise. The blow caught him just off centre on the back of his head and he pitched forward into darkness, consciousness leaving him before he even hit the ground.

Elladan hunkered down against the wall and waited. He had always been better at this than his brother. Elrohir had the healer’s all-encompassing curiosity that needed answers here, now, at once. Rather like Ery, now he thought of it. Elladan could wait. You learned that as a junior warrior. They gave you all sorts of tasks that involved sitting still and learning patience and he’d taken what he could from it. He had also watched his father dealing with his Council and could see where else waiting could be applied to good advantage. One of the places where it made less sense, he thought, was in Thranduil’s underground kingdom, in an unlit passageway, with Erestor somewhere down there, through a door and out of sight.

He counted heartbeats for a while to keep track of time, and when he felt long enough had passed he made his way quietly down to where the door had once stood slightly ajar. Erestor had closed it behind him for reasons Elladan couldn’t begin to guess, except it was the kind of picky detail he might have responded to without thought. When he reached the spot where he thought the door had been, he ran his hand along the wall and soon found it. Standing close he listened, but no sounds came through. Feeling about, he finally found the catch. The door itself felt strange, it was made from carefully sanded wood reinforced with hands of metal. Still, Ery had gone through that door, and he had to follow.

The catch didn’t lift, it turned, which was also novel. The door opened just a crack and he looked in. Light streamed back at him, but it was hard to make anything out. He could hear now though, there was water flowing somewhere and a hissing sound that might also have been to do with water. He opened the door further to get a better look. The light was mainly concentrated at the other end, leaving the entrance in shadow. There were rows of plants stretching off to the left, some potted, some in the ground, while on his right there were a series of dimly lit beds crammed with staked foliage. Down where the light was brightest, he could see a group of wooden buildings, painted stark white. There was no sign of Erestor.

He closed the door, realising with a half smile that he was probably responding to the same urge that had made Ery do the same. There seemed to be no one around, though he knew better than to take that for granted. He began moving as soundlessly as he would have when approaching a den of orcs, keeping to the shadows near the back of what looked like a giant greenhouse. There were little water channels and he avoided these as best he could.

Up near the buildings were the flowers he recognised from previous encounters. They grew in serried rows, and he was careful to keep his distance from them. They also served as a reminder that his movements should stay as quiet as possible; there was no knowing the capabilities of the plants he was passing. One thing he made a note to talk about with Ery later: the plants were all silent, there was no sense of things growing and reaching out, no small flickers of green energy; it was as though the little souls that should be present on the edge of his awareness had been locked away. It was both unnatural and unsettling.

Erestor was hard to spot when he chose not to be seen, but he would know Elladan would follow him in the end and keep watch for him. There was still no sign of him, though a couple of things drew Elladan’s eye, like the marks that said something had been dragged across an empty bed and the pots closer to the buildings that had been knocked over and left to lie. Concern gnawed at Elladan’s mind. He tried to ignore it, put it aside till he had time; worry was a luxury. Right now he was intent on reaching the buildings, as strangely out of place in a cavern complex as the greenhouse itself.

He knew where Mirkwood’s food came from, he had been told about the carefully preserved and guarded clearings and meadows on the fringes of the forest where crops were raised and animals like chickens and pigs were bred. There had certainly been no hint of anything like this. In fact, looking around, this seemed more like a Noldorin experimental farm than something he would associate with wood elves.

His mind was wandering. He brought it back firmly into line and kept moving, utilizing the stealthy crouch Glorfindel had brought from his time watching in the mountains above Gondolin. He kept to the shadows, his objective the back of the cluster of buildings. He had almost reached there without incident when something whipped out of nowhere and twined round his ankle. He bit back a yelp and looked down to where a long tendril had wrapped loosely around his ankle, trying to hold onto him, and his blood ran cold.

“Shit!” he muttered, grabbing at it and tugging. “Get off of me…” The tendril belonged to a young creeper and proved easy to break. Moving out of range he brushed himself off and gave his ankle a rub. “You still have some growing to do. Need to make sure I don’t run into your big brothers and sisters, don’t I?” he snarled at his attacker before continuing on his quest.

Reaching the side of the complex he risked a look around the front corner. There were doors with two or three steps leading up to each and a line of windows. A few small buildings stood separate from and diagonal to the rest. There were the same wooden steps, but no windows. Probably storage. Tellingly, on door was bolted from the outside. He was about to go look down the alley at the back to see if there was a way round, because crossing the open space in front of all those windows seemed a bit heedless, even for him, when a door clicked open and voices reached him.

“Damn,” he muttered, dropping to the ground and huddling close to the wall. This side of the building was in deep shadow and with luck he wouldn’t be seen.

“That second batch was more successful. Distilling the active ingredient from the dried dye is the easy part, activating it is proving the real problem.”

“She wants it ready by the end of the year. The meeting between the King and the Noldo bitch’s husband is set for that time, and if they’re to administer it to Celeborn, there will be no better time.”

“How will they test it though? Getting him to go back and attack his wife will need extreme control.”

“They were talking about trying it on the prisoners. Perhaps the redhead, though a Sinda might have been better. Closer to actual requirements.”

“Hmm. That might be a good idea. I wondered why she was keeping him.”

“Killing him wasn’t good politics, I heard. He’s one of their royals.”

“Ah. Well I suppose the other one will go tomorrow – the pods have already eaten tonight, need to wait till they’ve got their appetites back.”

They had stopped right at the corner, almost within reach of Elladan. He kept very still, barely breathing, while they laughed. “Soon won’t have to worry about their politics or who has to be treated with silk gloves. It’s been a long time since the Dagorlad and all our dead and their maligning of our king, but the wheel turns. It’ll be us who have the ascendancy, they’ll be the ones fighting the darkness unaided.”

“You off for the evening?”

“I’ll have to come in early morning, see how the distillation’s going, but yes. Straight home, my wife promised to bring back my dinner and a jug of wine.”

“She has permission to take food out the dining hall?”

“Oh, it’s enough to say her husband’s working on one of His Majesty’s special projects. And she’s very persuasive.”

“I want to try and be here when they give the other prisoner to Loggi. Haven’t seen him feed before.”

They walked past him and kept going, their voices fading as they made their way through the greenhouse. Elladan assumed, hoped, they were heading for the door. When they’d gone far enough, he started working his way to the end of the building and round that corner. Still in shadow, he crawled the length of the complex, avoiding foul smelling bins mainly containing rotting plant matter. There was a very small gap to edge through at the end, and Elladan wriggled through, reminded in a strange way of looking for tight and secure places when playing hide and seek in his youth.

It was brighter but there was nothing much to see, just plant pots, drums and containers stacked one atop the other and beyond them the locked shed. Elladan considered his options. Except for the two windows furthest away, the rest were horizontal slits set quite high up. He could hear no voices either. Waiting would only bring more danger, and Elladan was good at seizing the moment. Quick strides took him to the bolted door.

They had wrapped a length of chain around the bolt and fastened it with a padlock for good measure. He gave it a long look, then fiddled in his hair for one of the clips that held the shorter side locks back from his face. Breaking the thin end off he drew a deep breath and was about to set to work on the lock when he heard a door open and voices coming his way.

Chapter 5