No Home Here by hollybush
Hello! I’ve had trouble posting individual chapters of this story, so I’ve put it all up here at once. Sorry about the spacing!
Chapter One: The Road goes ever on and on.
Estel guided his horse along the path. This area was unfamiliar to the young man and the youth certainly didn’t want anything ill to befall him while on this trip. It had been hard enough to convince his father to allow him to leave Rivendell on his own for the scouting mission, but it had been even worse when attempting to get away from his twin elven brothers, who could sometimes be on the overprotective side. He had actually been forced to pry Elladan’s fingers off his saddle before he was able to leave Rivendell’s stable yard. But now he was days away from his home and his bad luck seemed to have caught up to him yet again, nipping at his heels like wild wolves and generally making his life a misery. The ranger scowled as the tiny flakes of snow that had started falling gently about half of an hour ago began to pick up in pace and ferocity, slanting in at just the right angle to get into his eyes and numb his nose. Grumbling, the fifteen year-old inwardly fumed at himself, the weather, as many of the Valar as he could currently remember, and, most of all, the weather. Before the man had simply been able to ignore the snow flurry, but now he was beginning to go numb… and angry. Sighing, he pulled the hood of his cloak up further around his head and tucked the edges into his tunic. The cold weather hadn’t been expected, so the young man had traveled light: without overcoat or, as he was just now discovering, gloves. After all, the trip was supposed to be short and simple: a quick trip along the great road and over to the borders of the shire to search out any unfriendly activity. Though there had been nothing unusual for Estel to report back to Elrond when he returned, it looked as if his trip might end up taking longer than anyone had originally planned. Well, that was if the snow continued to fall.
The man finally gave up rummaging through his saddlebags for his gloves and turned his body back around so that it was no longer twisted in an unnatural position. Sighing, he looked at his hands as if checking to make sure that they weren’t blue yet. Wrapping his fingers tighter around the reins of his dapple-gray horse, he sighed and tried to think of other things, such as the town that he should be coming upon in the next couple of miles. Though he couldn’t quite remember its name, he knew that it was one of the smaller farming towns that was in reality little more than a few houses and an inn surrounded by acres of rolling farmland. Frowning slightly, Aragorn tried to conjure up the name of the little village in his mind, but to no avail. He couldn’t remember whether it started with an A… or maybe a S. Shaking his head in frustration, the man fervently wished that he had at least glanced at one of the hundreds of maps in Imaldris before he had left. The movement caused the hood to fall back to his shoulders, exposing again his long, raven-colored hair that fell down to his upper-back and was tied back in practical eleven braids. He quickly caught the majority of it in one fist, however, and tucked it inside his cloak before pulling his hood back up.
The young man turned his attention back to the path before him, examining the snow that was quickly piling up on the ground and along the tops of branches. Reaching up, the man skimmed his hand along an overhanging branch before the movement of his horse carried him onwards. Estel’s brow creased with anxiety as he examined the large clump of snow in his hand. There hadn’t been enough time since the snow had started to fall for that much snow to accumulate on the tree limb, signifying that it must either have been snowing for longer here or that the icy precipitation was coming down harder here than it had been a mile or so down the trail. Either way it could only mean one thing: that the young man was riding into a storm.
Hours later found Estel still sitting on the back of his horse, though now hunched over as close to the horse as was physically possible. Both his head and that of his gelding were hunched over against the fierce wind that mercilessly drove what seemed like every snowflake on Arda right into their faces. The horse plowed valiantly through the ever-growing drifts of snow that covered the path, halting often as he searched for an easier way through the mounting snow. The man on his back was far beyond caring, however. He was soaked through and through, his sodden cloak clinging to his body and seeming to give off more chill than even the frozen air that whipped around the pair. The hands that wound themselves into the horse’s mane were blue with cold and so numb that Estel feared he would never regain feeling in them again, even if he did manage to make it out of this blizzard.
With half-lidded eyes the man gazed again at the path that he knew was buried somewhere underneath all the snow, searching for any sign that might lead him to shelter. The nameless town that he should have reached hours ago had yet to make an appearance, but the young ranger wondered if he had indeed passed it without seeing the lights. He shook his head at the thought, dislodging the layer of snow that had settled on top of his exposed hair. Muttering, he wondered when his hood had slipped off his head, frowning with the thought that he hadn’t been able to tell the difference between when the hood had been on his head and when he had been exposed to the raging elements. Sighing, he pressed turned his head to the side and pressed his cheek against his horse’s neck, trying desperately to share some of the animal’s body heat. The elven steed whipped his head around concernedly at butted his shoulder with his long head, but when Estel didn’t respond snorted and turned back to the road ahead. The young man wished for what had to be the fiftieth time that day that he had elven endurance and resilience against the cold. It was yet another shortcoming that had become evident during his childhood in Rivendell. He remembered how his Adar had always bundled him up it layers of warm clothing before he was allowed outside during even the lightest of snowfalls. Now Estel desperately wished for Lord Elrond to be here beside him, telling him that everything would be all right and to hold on just a little while longer. He could almost feel his brothers’ warm and protective embraces, holding him and keeping him warm. The man sighed: he thought he could hear Elrond’s voice on the wind, bringing him comfort and hope. “Hope”, he thought, “Estel.” and then slipped from his horse, darkness taking him before he hit the ground.
Chapter Two: Numb
Estel’s first thoughts upon awakening were that he was suffocating. Desperately he thrashed against the heavy, dark object that was pinning his frozen body to the ground. He lifted his arms in an attempt to push whatever was directly next to him off, but found that his arms were shaking too badly to be of much help to anyone, especially himself. The object, however, let out a shrill whinny, and Estel let his head fall back in relief and trying to calm his racing heart, he turned his body so as to huddle closer to his horse. But once Sadron sensed that his master was back in the land of the living there was no possible way that the loyal horse would lose his owner again. With an annoyed nicker the mount butted the man repeatedly until finally he groaned and gently batted at his horse’s head away. As he gradually began to come back to his senses the ranger found that he was lying in the middle of the road. It seemed that he had fallen off of Sadron and the horse had simply lain down next to his master. Smiling slightly in spite of his predicament, he numbly pushed himself to his feet, steadying himself with a hand on his horse’s back. When he was standing unaided again his mount heaved himself to his four feet and waited patiently while the young man lugged himself onto the broad, gray back.
Patting Sadron’s neck encouragingly, the pair set off again. Estel had little hope of finding any shelter, but he figured that he might at least be able to shorten the distance between his current position and Rivendell before he was forced by the cold to dig himself into a snow bank. Looping the reins around his saddle horn, Estel clapped his newly freed hands together, straining to hear the pop of their impact over the howling snow. He frowned and caught the edges of his cloak between deadened fingers and clutched the thin, dripping piece of material closer to his body and closing his eyes. He was sorely tempted to let the swaying motion of the horse walking underneath him lull his numb body to sleep, but was loathe to allow even the possibility of another tumble into his mind. His last descent from Sadron’s back had served only to further drench the man in ice crystals and to let his clothing soak up even more dampness.
As Estel huddled in on himself, he noticed with concern that he had stopped shivering, though he could hardly bring himself to care. All that he really wanted to do was lie down and sleep, maybe for a day or two. Even the white snow that blanketed the path looked inviting to his tired eyes. Quickly he shook himself, mentally berating his spirit for being so lethargic. He resorted to pinching his arms viciously every time that he began to nod off. Quite swiftly he had a large array of angry red lines from his nails stretching over his bare arms. Cursing softly (a trick that his brothers had taught him) he forced his eyes to stay open, wondering why the lethargic mood had overtaken his senses.
He had all but given up hope when through the swirling snow a dull light flickered as flakes of the frozen precipitation drifted briskly past the source of the light. At first Estel didn’t trust that his own eyesight was not playing tricks on him, but then the young man blinked, and then blinked again without the flickering light disappearing. A grin cracked over his frozen face, and then there was no time to spare for frivolities such as smiling. Slapping his hands once, twice against his legs in an attempt to get blood circulating to those extremities again, and then he hastily unwound Sadron’s reins from around the saddle horn. Tugging the horse to a halt, Estel squinted through the snow towards where the faint, blinking light was shining; lighting up the path like a miniature beacon of hope for a lost traveler. Nodding in satisfaction, the young ranger turned the gelding; hope once again filling his numb body.
Chapter Three: No Home Here
The gatekeeper who was guarding the entrance to the small town was dozing off at his post. The night was cold and harsh snow was swirling around his small hut, but inside was warmed by a fire and lit by several lanterns. The portly old man was sitting in a high-backed chair by the fire, taking full advantage of the storm to allow him time inside and out of the cold. After all, the man couldn’t think of anyone who would be out in a storm like this: everyone with any sense had hurried home at the sight of the impending clouds. A thick, badly bound book was laying forgotten on his lap, a few of the pages standing straight up in the air and giving the impression that the man hadn’t even remotely glanced at them for quite some time now. As a matter fact he hadn’t been looking at anything for quite some time now. The man’s eyes were closed and his mouth open. A faint rumbling sound reverberated throughout the small room, and those who were unused to sleeping humans might have found it akin to a distant herd of stampeding mumakil. The peacefulness of the scene inside the room was soon disturbed, however, as a loud thump came from directly outside the door. Though the noise was not quite enough to wake the man, it served to pull his out of the depths of his dreams. Another louder and more urgent whack was heard on the gate, and this time the elderly man was yanked fully out of his sleep and dropped back into his body in the armchair by the fire. Like any normal person who has had their rest disrupted by duty, the fact that it was his job to wake up for a night traveler wasn’t any compensation for the fact that he was no longer blissfully asleep. A quieter, more desperate knock was heard upon the gate, but the man had absolutely no intention of getting out of his chair. Perhaps if he waited for long enough the fool standing outside the little village would finally realize the absurdity of being outside on such a night as this. But just as the silence was stretching out for long enough to make him contemplate drifting back to sleep, the man heard something else from outside the gate, faintly blown into his cottage on the snow-laden wind. Maybe he was just imagining it, but he could have sworn he had heard the tune of a familiar lullaby, one that his mother had sung to him long, long ago. But it most certainly couldn’t be the same song: unless he was very much mistaken a man and a young one at that sang this. Frowning, the gatekeeper tried to recall the faces of his surrounding neighbors: perhaps one of the children next door was singing to the baby. But the more he thought about it the more frustrated the man became. He was too far away from any of his neighbors for a song to have drifted over the sounds of the howling storm. But he mentally shied away from the only other alternative, for this would mean that a young man, nay, a child was outside the gates in this weather! Sighing deeply, the man knew that his conscience would never let him live with himself if he decided not to answer the gate. He twisted his neck around until he heard the pop of the bones, and then slowly levered himself out of the armchair, gnarled old hands grasping its overstuffed arms. He shuffled to the door and opened it a crack, shuddering at the wave of icy coldness that came through such a small opening. Snow still fell thickly, and squinting out into the darkness the man could see that the road was already blanketed in a good two feet of the sleet-like substance. ‘Not at all like in the children’s picture books is this snow.’ He thought.’ No beautiful crystals and cheery snow men lining the streets.’ Sighing, he fished a long coat off of one of the pegs driven into the wall by the door, and slid it over his stooped shoulders. Pushing the door open the rest of the way, he took a deep breath and plunged out into the darkness, letting the door slam shut behind him. Though his house backed right up to the weathered wooden gate, the walk still seemed to take an eternity. As he trudged through the feet of snow, he heard snatches of that haunting lullaby. Once again the familiarity of the song made him curious, but in the bits and pieces of the melody that he could hear, the man ascertained that the words were most definitely not in Westron. They sounded much to fair, even if they were distorted to the point where they echoed hauntingly on the snowy wind. Abruptly, however, the voice and the song stopped altogether, leaving the old man somewhat confused. The childhood melody was replaced by something far more eerie: choked sobs. The man realized once again that it was most definitely a child that had been singing and that now cried outside the village gate, and a pang of guilt reverberated throughout the man’s heart. He frowned, and with a last spurt of effort he reached the gate in the palisade. Brushing away the snow from the iron handle of the gate, the man threw aside caution and did not even bother to open first the small round peephole in the gate’s wooden face, choosing instead to open up the entire door. With a great deal of creaking, moaning, and shoving from both parties involved, the door finally opened, leaving the old man panting with his hands resting on bent knees. Raising his head up, he took tentative steps outside of the village towards the source of the sobbing. The cries proved to be coming from a huddled figure perched atop what appeared to be a fine horse. The steed’s head was up, almond-shaped eyes staring boldly at the old man. After a brief face-off between horse and man, the animal gave out a shrill whinny and cocked its long head back at the child in its saddle. The old man limped towards the horse and its oblivious rider, who was still sniffling. When he was close enough, he reached up to the child and carefully put a hand on the youth’s leg. An extremely startled head flew up, dislodging a loose hood and giving one startled old man a good look at the pale face of a frightened elfling!
Chapter Four: Elrond’s Koi
It had hardly been ten days and already Elladan was pacing. His twin watched him with amusement as he traced his chosen course around and around the twins’ sitting room. Elrohir was curled up in a window seat, mid-morning light streaming in on him and causing him to squint one eye against its brilliance. A book of lore lay open on his lap: forgotten for a moment as the dark-haired elf watched his brother stride around the room in a restless sort of way. For his part, the younger twin didn’t really understand why Elladan was working himself into such a frenzy. Yes, of course Elrohir was worried about his foster brother, but still, it had barely been over a week. The gray-eyed elf couldn’t help but smile as he thought of the way his twin would think of the situation. Putting himself in the slightly older elf’s skin, he knew that the whole mess of circumstances looked completely different. Elladan had always been a bit overprotective of the young edan, trying to keep him out of situations that might get him into trouble or hurt in any way. Unfortunately, when living with the sons of Elrond, life was never that simple. The twins were always up to the points of their ears in some kind of trouble or mischief, and whatever his role models did, Estel was bound to be right behind them. This habit was bound to drive the elder, more protective twin up the wall with worry when the man attempted to keep up with the elven twins in their pranks and practical jokes. Now Estel was gone, and for the first time his older brothers weren’t with him. Elladan had gone somewhere bordering between insanity and rage when he hear that their father was sending the young man on a scouting trip to the Shire alone. Elrohir, fearing that his twin’s outburst might be detrimental to his foster-brother’s self esteem, had taken the enraged elf some distance out into the woods surrounding Rivendell to let him vent his rage on an innocent bush. Surprisingly enough, once Estel had left Rivendell, Elladan had become generally tractable, and hadn’t attempted to launch any search parties… yet. Now he was afraid that his twin might relapse into his old bad habits and ride out to search out his brother himself. Sighing, Elrohir set his book aside and stretched leisurely, causing his twin to glance sharply at him as he passed by the window-seat. Swinging long legs over the edge of the seat and letting his feet rest on the rug-covered floor. Elladan finally paused in his pacing, glaring at his stretching twin, who pointedly ignored his stares. “Dinner, Elladan?” He asked calmly, attempting to distract his twin. “The bell should be ringing soon.” Unfortunately his plan backfired, and his words only caused the older elf to frown. “No, brother, I do not think I can eat right now.” Elrohir smiled sadly and swung his arm around his twin’s shoulder, herding him towards the door. “Well that is a sad occurrence.” He replied with a wistful smile. “For I could have sworn I heard one of the cooks mention tarts for desert.” This was a downright lie, but it pained Elrohir to see his second half worrying so much about something that he couldn’t eat. Usually the mere mention of Rivendell’s famed tarts dashing for the dining hall, but now even this failed to raise Elladan’s spirits. So instead of heading towards the dining hall Elrohir started off with his brother towards the interior courtyard. After a few minutes of walking in strained silence, the came to a wood door leading into an airy courtyard. The merry trickling sounds of a small waterfall filled the cobbled yard, and ivy crawled up all of the surrounding walls. Elladan slid out from under his brother’s arm and went to sit on one of the rocks enclosing the pond into which the waterfall flowed. His twin silently came over to stand behind him, looking over his shoulder at the rippling pond while his brother nervously tapped long fingers on the rock on which he sat. Dark and light shapes slipped through the plants lining the bottom of the pool, and Elrohir smiled at the sight of his father’s koi. The fish lived out a happy existence in the little pond, and there was never a lack of kind kitchen staff or curious visitors to supplement their watery diet with breadcrumbs and similar offerings. Now Elrohir gazed at Elrond’s fish and saw an opportunity to teach his moping brother a lesson. Singling out a smaller fish, the agile elf cupped his hands and in one fluid movement had captured the koi along with a small amount of pond water. Moving quickly, he traveled with the struggling fish over to the top of the small waterfall where there was an area of flat water before the water level dropped sharply off. The elf released the koi at the top of the waterfall, at the same time beckoning his brother over to where he stood. Bemused, Elladan stood up and hurried over to his twin. The identical elves watched in silence as the fish swam in a few cautious circles. Then, suddenly the koi put on a burst of speed and flew over the side of the falls, propelling its body so that it flew over the small rocks at the base of the waterfall and landed with a splash in the middle of the small pool. Immediately the fish swam over to where Elrohir had snatched it from, and playfully bumped into a few of the other koi as if nothing had ever happened. Elrohir smiled and turned to look at his perplexed twin. “No matter what separates us, he’ll be back.” He said simply, knowing that no other words were needed. Elladan slowly broke into a grin as comprehension of what dawned on him, and then smacked his brother lightly on the back. Elrohir winked slyly, and then turned to go back inside. Elladan’s voice stopped him before he took more than a few steps, however. “So brother, are you still up to those tarts?” The younger twin whipped around, a slightly guilty expression on his fair face. Elladan narrowed his eyes menacingly, knowing what that look meant. Without a word, Elrohir broke into a sprint, his twin hot on heels. As both elves disappeared inside the last homely house, Elrond stepped away from the window where he had been standing. A smile was on the elf lord’s face: his oldest had finally come to expect the inevitable. He chuckled as he thought about Elrohir’s trick with the koi. The peredhil wondered exactly how many times Elrohir had sent his fish down that waterfall. Shaking his head, Elrond vowed that from now on, he was keeping a closer eye out for flying fish.
Chapter Five: Human Contact
Estel was cold, wet, and on the brink of tears. He had finally reached a place where he could most likely find shelter: the evasive village that he could vaguely remember from one of his father’s maps. The foreboding and unlit wooden palisade. However, had proved to be a significantly daunting task. The young man had assumed, from what little prior knowledge of the villages of men that his brothers had chosen to impart on him, that someone would be there to open the gate and let him in. But when five minutes and several loud thumps against the wooden wall had not shown any sign of a gatekeeper, Estel began to once again lose hope. After coming so close, he doubted that he could turn around and continue to ride up the road. He had already come a good way off of the great road to seek refuge in the small village, and deep in Estel’s young heart he knew that it would be twice as hard to keep going now that he had turned off the road. Dejectedly, he began to sing a melody that he had heard nearly every night in his youth: a song that his father and even his brothers would hum or sing when nightmares plagued his sleep and rest would not come to the small, shivering human. The melody floated farther on the night air than Estel could have known, but to him it seemed that the elven words died as soon as they passed his lips: muffled by the falling snow. Unconsciously he began to contemplate digging himself into a snow bank until morning. Estel frowned at this idea: without any extra blankets the night would be a cold, wet one and the young man was already soaked to the bone. ‘For the sake of the valar!’ He thought. “What am I thinking? My clothes are frozen onto my body, it’s so cold that I can’t even breathe out of my nose any more, and I found a village just to be ignored at the gate! Being a bit more cold and wet can’t possibly hurt me any more!’ But the young man bowed his head in defeat as a different voice in his head whispered logic into his ear. ‘But if you go to sleep now, you might never wake up…” The elven song faltered an died on his blue and frozen lips, and suddenly the man’s throat was too dry to force out even the simple notes that would provide comfort to his numb spirit. A choked sob was wrenched from his young throat, then another, each a harsh, hacking sign of weakness that tore at his heart and brought tears of shame to his eyes at the involuntary show of emotions. Hurriedly he clamped his mouth shut so as to bottle up the sorrow that seemed to be pouring out of his very soul. The thought that he might not live to see his brothers again, nor be held in his father’s strong embrace only helped to increase the strength of his despair, and calling up thoughts of home brought no sorrow to the pitiful young man, only grief. So preoccupied was he that he was startled back into reality only when Sadron’s whinny pierced the frigid winter air. He brought a quaking hand out of the folds of his cloak to pat his horse once, twice. The animal seemed to be agitated, as if he feared for something, and though Estel did not look up, but suddenly his heightened senses went on full alert, wondering what this new threat could be. The hand still concealed inside his cloak went automatically to the hilt of the short dagger that he wore on his hip while traveling, loosening the elven blade in its sheathe. Just as he was preparing to raise his head and search the area for whatever was frightening his horse, which now shifted tensely underneath him, he felt a hand on his leg. Estel’s young mind was suddenly flooded with wave after wave of panic as the boy realized that he had done the unthinkable and allowed someone to sneak up on him unawares. He had broken the major rule of the hunter, the traveler, the warrior, and the elf because he was caught up in his self-pity. As he raised his head with a snap the man realized that prolonged exposure to the cold and too long with his head bowed had done something to his head, and when he was no longer looking down he felt fluid rushing down from his head. Estel had but a moment to throw a wide- eyed, startled glance at what seemed to be an old man standing with his hand on his own snow-coated breeches before he heard a great roaring in his ears and the world suddenly went black, blotting out all the snow.
The old man was frozen in place, but it had nothing to do with the cold snow that whipped around his bundled-up body. True, after hearing the song and the crying of the little figure the man had expected a child on the horse’s back. But never had he expected the person he found to be… quite like this. He caught a glimpse of bright silver eyes that were hard and strong-willed before suddenly the child swayed and the bright orbs clouded over in what seemed to be pain. The dark head lolled to the side, and then the entire body of the boy seemed to shudder before going completely limp and crumpling atop the horse. Startled for the second time that minute, the man quickly reached up and pulled the child from the animal’s back before he could fall and hurt himself. Long, raven hair spilled out from underneath the boy’s cloak and onto the old man’s shoulder, moving like a living liquid as the man attempted to shift the burden in his arms so that the child’s long legs weren’t dragging along the ground. Readjusting the limp bundle so that he only supported it with one arm, the man used his newly freed limb to push the dark locks out of the child’s face. Gently tucking the strands of hair behind the boy’s ears, he paused for a moment, and then let out a long sigh of relief. He put a finger to the rounded cartilage, reassuring himself with its feel that the child he held was indeed a man. The long hair and odd garb had had the old man convinced that his newfound charge was of elf-kind. Not that he was an expert on the eldar, but even the little children in the village knew that elves had pointed ears, no exceptions. The man resumed his task of baring the boy’s face of hair, but after a few moments of this work he began to wish that he had left the locks of dark hair where they lay. The boy’s face was a stark, unearthly hue of white, which was a stark contrast to his hair and long eyelashes. No heat radiated from his body, and his clothes were stiff and covered in ice crystals. The old man frowned in worry over this odd stranger. ‘No child should ever be this cold.’ He thought, wondering how long the boy had been riding in the horrid weather. All of a sudden he realized that they were still outside the village, with the gate standing wide open and a blizzard raging all around them. Mentally smacking himself, the old man started back towards the gate, before remembering the handsome horse that stood next to him, snorting with fear and impatience. Grabbing a handful of leather reins in his free hand, the man wiggled his shoulder until the boy’s head was resting safely on it. Once again he started off towards the gate, this time leading an unpredictably well-mannered elven steed and carrying his precious bundle of cold flesh and light cloth. Once through, he made a beeline for his house, hardly bothering to secure the horse in the neighbor’s stable, and never sparing a thought for the gate that he left swinging in the wind.
Chapter Six: A Stranger’s Healing
Estel woke up to a falling sensation: a short, controlled drop made somewhat gentler by a pair of old hands and cushioned by a warm quilt. His body felt oddly detached, yet he could still feel it shudder and tremble violently. His teeth bumped against each other, an annoying chattering noise coming from them as they clacked together. The boy’s head spun even though he lay still, and his breathing came harsh and laboriously. Slowly he pieced together what had happened in his last few moments of unconsciousness, and verified his story with a glimpse of the face of the old man leaning over him. Cautiously he opened his eyes all the way, and then bit his lower lip to keep from crying out. Circulation was finally coming back to his fingers in a rush, but not without the painful feeling of being jabbed with hot dagger points. If he could have seen his face its unnatural pallor would have startled him, but he could tell that the man standing over him was greatly concerned over something. Estel briefly wondered who his rescuer was, but was quickly distracted. A moan was forced from his lips when the man placed what felt like searing hot hands on his numb face. The young man watched a flicker of concern pass over the old man’s craggy face. The man didn’t seem to understand how much his touch hurt, for he brought his other hand up and held both sides of the young man’s face for a moment before he moved his fingers up to put pressure on the young man’s eyelids. Estel trembled violently as he felt his eyes being closed with exaggerated care by the old man’s calloused hands. He heard something being said in what he recognized as Westron, and then the scorching hot touch left his face and his body was covered partially by the other half of the quilt that he was lying on top of. The shadow of the old man receded, and through the ear not pressed against the bed Estel could hear the door to the hut being opened. A violent burst of frigid air swept through the small room, ruffling the pages of an overturned book and causing the young man on the bed to clamp his eyes shut as if the grip of death itself was upon him. As tremors continued to wreak havoc across his slender frame, he wondered how long the old man would be absent, and where he had gone to in the first place. Estel had no idea what the town was like, nor was he even sure whether or not its inhabitants were friendly to the eldar. He hoped fervently that they were: if not, his hairstyle and speech could cause some tense situations. Lord Elrond had recently started him on Westron, but even though he was an eager pupil, Estel rarely found time in his schedule between other instruction and his lengthy weapons and technique practices. In what little time the young man and his father had managed to find for the language, Estel had worked diligently, yet it was his second language. Many a lecture had been given by his father on the importance of knowing Middle Earth’s standard language, but so far the man had never actually needed to use the language. Now, as he lay shivering in a stranger’s bed, he vehemently wished that he knew more than how to introduce himself and ask the directions to the nearest inn. To take his mind off of his frozen body, Estel rolled over onto his side and opened one eye to scan the hut into which he had been taken. He assumed that it belonged to the old man who had found him outside the gate, but anything further than that was a mystery to his young mind. The hut was actually rather nice, with quilts hung upon the walls and a comfortable-looking armchair in front of the hearth. The fire itself was stale, and seemed to Estel to give off little warmth. As he watched the minute flames flicker close to the log in the grate, the young man’s elven-trained senses heard footsteps coming up to the door. When he hurriedly concentrated on the sounds, he was confident that there were, in fact, two sets of feet that were slogging their way through the heavy snow. Swiftly he turned back over so that he was on his back again with his eyes closed. He was wary of the men: he hadn’t had much experience with them apart from the few times he had gone out with his brothers to meet the rangers. But this was different: the rangers spoke his language and were friendly with his brothers and father. Here the young man had no clue whether the men would aid him or attack him. Estel held his breath as the door creaked open and another rush of snowy air swirled around the small hut. Sure enough, he could hear the breathing of two men as they came in and shut the door behind them, stomping snowy boots on the doorstep to dislodge most of the slushy substance. The swishing of material alerted Estel to the fact that they were removing their cloaks, and then with a few clunking steps there were two shadows falling over him. Hesitantly, the young man opened his eyes and looked at the faces looming above him. The old man was back, along with another man, a burly-looking redhead with a prolific beard and beady green eyes. Without warning, the newcomer reached under the quilt covering Estel and caught the boy’s left arm that had been lying limply next to his body. The young man flinched and tensed under the man’s sturdy grip, but the man took no notice and instead began to feel up and down Estel’s strong arm. When the boy frowned in disproval the redhead simply laughed and rattled off a string of words in what the boy assumed to be Westron. Taking a shaky breath, Estel prepared a sentence that Lord Elrond had assured him was appropriate in any situation: “I d-do not speak much of y-your language.” Estel stammered out through chattering teeth, hoping that he had gotten the order of the words correct. This caused the two men standing to look at each other before breaking out into hysterical laughter. The redhead dropped Estel’s arm and the old man nodded to the stranger before walking over and settling into the armchair by the fire, where Estel correctly assumed that he had been sitting before venturing out to allow the young man admittance to the village. The other man pulled a short stool from under the bed and then perching on its small seat. This brought the large man down to about eye level with Estel, who accordingly turned over on his left side, rotating his newly freed wrist. The other man brought his face up to the boy’s, and spoke slowly. “What is your name, young one?” With a slight wince as the limits of his Westron knowledge was tested, the young man responded with the customary “Estel, and yours?” The elder smiled. “Gerte is my name. Where do you live that you do not speak the language of men, Estel? Estel struggled with the context for a moment before he worked out the general idea of the question. “In Rivendell,” He said shortly. “With the elves.” With that Gerte blanched visibly, but quickly composed himself before once again looking down on Estel, but this time with a new appreciation in his eyes. There was a lengthy pause, which was interrupted when Estel’s body began to spasmodically shake with the cold. Since his body produced no heat, and the dying fire gave off very little, blankets were no help to the young man’s cause. Gerte frowned, but then stood up and moved over to the corner of the hut where a thin door led to what seemed to be a closet. The large man pulled out several folded blankets, which he carried over to the bedside. Brusquely he pulled the quilt off of Estel’s shivering body and let it drop in a heap on top of the others. He scooped the thin form of the young man off of the now bare bed, and let his feet dangle on the floor while he half-supported Estel with a vice-like arm around his chest. The younger man began to struggle violently against the grip that was crushing his chest and cutting off his oxygen, but Gerte only chuckled and commenced to wrap Estel in the quilt as one might wrap a sausage in a piece of bread. Now coughing violently in an involuntary attempt to remove whatever was obstructing his air, Estel was deposited back on the bed, having only a brief second’s respite before being cocooned in three other blankets Gerte had produced. Now fully unable to move his limbs, the young man began to panic over his situation. The years of healer’s training he had received under the tutoring of Lord Elrond and his twin brothers jumped to the forefront of his mind, and Estel tried to pull up the memories of anything he had ever been taught about people exposed to the cold for too long. He could recall his father telling him to remove any wet clothing, Elladan reminding him that blankets would be useless until the person was out of danger of hypothermia, and Elrohir teasing him when he asked how to treat an elf with frostbite. For some reason he could remember something about soup and tea, and recollect a very early memory of his father bending over a bed and rubbing the limbs of a stiff and blue-lipped patient. Estel frowned as he tried to roll onto his stomach, much to the annoyance of Gerte. Clucking like a hen, the big man pinned Estel’s light frame to the bed. Seeing the boy’s frown, the redhead shook his head in amusement. “You just rest, little Estel. Warm up and keep old Sam company: he should like that, the old goat!” Estel shook his head, which was the only free part of his body, vehemently, not understanding most of the words spoken, but still understanding the gist of what he was being told: that Gerte was leaving and he was to stay put. ‘No!’ He wanted to shout. ‘Don’t leave me stuck here like this, I will never get warm!’ The big man stood patiently, seeming to expect something, and so Estel, for lack of any better words, forced out “Hannon Le,” ‘Thank you,’ in his own language. Gerte nodded gravely, looking for all the world as if he understood every word the boy said, and then retrieved his coat and walked out the door to be swallowed up by the night. A shivering Estel was left alone in wet clothes and increasingly soggy blankets, alone with a snoring old man in a drafty hut in the middle of nowhere. And that night, the young man cried himself to sleep.
Chapter Seven: Permission
It had barely been twelve days and both twins were pacing. Around and around the twins’ sitting room they went, one dark-haired elf following the other, then splitting up before forming their little line again. There was no conversation, just a stretching, gnawing silence as they lost themselves in their individual thoughts. Not that their worries were focused on different topics: the only thing that either of them really had on their minds was their foster brother, Estel. Elrohir had been the calm, assured one merely a day or two before, but now even he was edgy, trying to figure out what on earth could be taking his little brother so long to return from a simple scouting trip. Worst-case scenarios were constantly running through both of the twins’ minds. Gruesome pictures of orc torture and execution plagued Elladan, while his twin couldn’t quite get the notion of a wolf attack out of his head. Food was little distraction, and even their father couldn’t keep them from their restless pacing. For all that Lord Elrond had tried to sidetrack them with a short herb-picking excursion, the two were back in half an hour with the herbs and back in their room. Elrohir recalled how he had laughed at Elladan’s worry a few days before and winced, knowing full well that if someone had tried to cheer him up the unlucky elf would have woken up in the healing hall the next day. A commanding knock at the sitting room door startled the twins out of their little worlds of stress. Elladan rolled his eyes, causing Elrohir to smirk, and vaulted over a low couch to open the door for whoever was waiting on the threshold. Elrohir sank into a chair vacant of everything save a few embroidered pillows, watching his brother defy gravity and the household rules at the same time. The elder twin opened the door to reveal none other than Lord Elrond himself, and then backed away, allowing their father admittance to the room. Not that he needed their permission to enter anyways, but the elf lord had tried to instill in the twins and their sister a sense of respect for their elders. Seeing that most of those living in Rivendell were senior to them, this etiquette extended to knocking before barging into a room and similar niceties. Also, as the family felt strongly against hypocrisy, Elrond had always felt obligated to follow the feasible rules that he set for his children, including the “knock-before-you-enter” decree. Even if he was entering the sitting room of his own children who were wallowing in empty-nest syndrome (or at least something akin to it.) Not that the elf lord wasn’t worried about his youngest son: he had scouts on a constant lookout for the boy at the edges of Rivendell’s borders, and was even contemplating sending someone out along the road to look for the miscreant. Seeing the mournful looks on the twins’ faces, he decided that he knew just the elves to send on such a job: and with all haste. He had a feeling that if he sent anyone else to search for his missing child, these two would leave something squishy in his bed. Or worse, in his food. The elf briefly contemplated toying with his sons for a few minutes, but decided against it when he thought of their present temper spans (or lack thereof.) Instead he closed the door behind him, seated himself on a footstool, and waited patiently for Elladan to sit down. His oldest, unfortunately, didn’t seem to be able to take a hint in his current frame of mind, and resumed his pacing. Elrohir rolled his eyes, and waited for his twin to be in close proximity before he stuck out a long leg to trip him up. This plan backfired, however, when a fully-grown elf proceeded to land hard in his lap. Elrond saved the picture of Elrohir’s face when his twin landed hard on his legs with an ungraceful “oomph” to use against his sons the next time the twins reminded Estel how elves were lighter than men. Elrohir recovered with all the grace of his kind and pushed Elladan off of his lap, squeezing over so that both elves sat squished between the arms of the chair. An ominous creaking noise reached their father’s ears, and it was all the dignified elf lord could do to keep from rolling his eyes. Sometimes his sons were just too much for him. There were at least three other possible seats in the room, yet here they were squished into one. Typical of them, really. He waited a moment before addressing the two, letting the silence work into the cracks of the room and make the elven twins tense. They really never knew with their father: he could be there to praise them for something or dole out a harsh punishment and they would never know until he actually started talking. Fortunately for them, Elrond decided to let them off the hook early. Knowing exactly what was on their minds at the time, he felt that long speeches were unnecessary. Cutting straight to the chase, he simply told the two what they were waiting to hear. “You have my permission. Be back within a week.” There was a shocked silence, and then the twins simultaneously jumped up out of the chair, knocking into each other and most of the furniture in their stampede to the door. Suddenly Lord Elrond’s voice broke through their frenzy. “HOLD!” Two identical heads whipped around as the elves froze dead in their tracks. Their father was holding up a pair of thick gloves that the twins recognized as belonging to Estel. “Please give these to your brother: it looks as if it might be snowing along the road.” Both of his sons nodded, and the gloves were deftly tucked into a ball and tossed to Elrohir, who pocketed them. With quick bows to their father the twins were gone, whirling through their rooms before spilling out into the hallway still stuffing clothing and weapons into packs. Elrond could hear them running down to the stables full speed, and before he could say ‘search-and-rescue’ the two were pressed flat against the backs of their horses, galloping through the gates of the last homely house and towards the Shire. With a silent prayer to the Valar, Elrond turned from the window of the sitting room, trusting to his sons to bring back the hope of men.
Chapter Eight: A Woman’s Touch
The old man was starting to get annoyed. The strange boy that he had found outside the gate had apparently woken before he had and had done nothing but stare at the man since he woke up. The child was soaked, as were what seemed to be every blanket that the man owned. The raven hair was plastered flat to the boy’s skull, braids lying limply on the pillow. Sam pushed himself forwards in his chair, trying to ease the crick out of his back that came from sleeping in an armchair. With his best façade of indifference in place, the old man stood up, stretched, and moved around the hut, getting ready for the day as he always did. Engle, who lived next door, brought his breakfast to his post at the gate. Sam sat beside the door in the palisade for most of the day, monitoring the comings and goings of the townsfolk and local farmers. But right now, as he examined the ashes of last night’s fire, he found himself in a real predicament. He had a youngster on his hands and no clue what to do with him. Surely the lad would want to be on his way, but first there was the question of paying for the stabling for his horse. Not to mention however much Gerte would charge for his “doctoring.” Panicked and with a very sickly looking child on his hands, Sam had run for one of his closest neighbors. Though the big redhead was kind enough at heart, no doubt he would be expecting something for his services. Perhaps the boy could run errands for the innkeeper or some such work, but who knew how long that might take. One thing Sam knew for sure was that he was sleeping in his own bed tonight, boy or no boy. Poking the dead fire with a poker, the old man heard an unfamiliar noise coming from the bed. Turning his head, he saw the child sitting up with his face in his hands, hacking coughs wracking his body. In a few shuffling strides the old man was at the bedside, hovering and unsure of what to do for the boy. Cautiously he put a hand on the youngster’s hunched back, flinching as he touched the cold, wet material. ‘Surely the boy should have warmed up by now.’ He thought, worriedly. Slowly he rubbed in circles, trying to ease something of the pain he could see in the startling silver eyes. Eventually the boy’s cough slackened, and he wiped his face wretchedly. Straining his memory, Sam remembered what the boy had referred to himself as, ‘Estel.’ A funny name, as the old man thought, but then again, the boy did live with elves. “Hush little one, hush Estel.” He said, trying to make his gravelly voice sound soothing for the boy’s sake. After all, he was obviously far away from home and sick to top that off. Sam fleetingly wondered whether the boy’s parents were looking for him, but brushed that thought aside as he looked outside. It was almost full light and he was going to be late for his work if he didn’t hurry now. Standing quickly, the old man reached for his cloak and bent over to put on his boots. Hoping fervently that the boy could understand at least part of what he said, Sam made a rushed attempt to communicate his situation to the boy. “I have to go to work now, but I will send a woman by to see to you, alright?” The child’s wide-eyed stare told the man that he didn’t understand a word said, but he put on what was obviously a brave face and nodded twice, wincing. The old man sighed, but had to hurry out the door before those waiting at the gate set up a clamor. Opening the wooden door, Sam took a deep breath of the cold, crisp air. Several feet of snow had fallen overnight, and he sighed as he began to trudge through the white slush. Reaching his post at the gate, which consisted of a small, three-walled box and a wooden bench, he found Engle already there, tapping her foot in mock impatience and with a friendly smile on her face. The petite brunette held a wooden tray with a napkin-covered plate and pitcher of some kind of drink on it, just as she did every morning. In truth, Engle was his niece’s daughter, and her mother always made sure that several meals found their way to Sam over the course of the day. In return Sam would sometimes bring the children small trinkets that he carved during the long hours of watching, and once or twice he looked the other way when the teenaged twin nuisances that Engle called her sons climbed the palisade for a midnight dare. With a smile Sam relieved her of the tray, but stopped her as she turned to hurry home. “Engle, would you mind terribly doing me a favor?” The small woman turned around, curious. “Just name it, Uncle!” A warm smile was spared for the old man and Sam beckoned her closer to him. “Now Engle,” He started, “there was a young boy at the gate late last night who is in my house now. Would you be a real sweetheart and see that he’s comfortable for me? I had to leave almost as soon as I woke this morning.” The mother was wide-eyed, but nonetheless nodded her assent. “Of course, Uncle, I’ll see what I can do for the lad.” Sam was summoned to the gate by a loud banging, but as he turned to open it he called to Engle one last time. “And before I forget, the boy doesn’t speak common!” The woman, who was already hurrying towards his hut, simply shook her head in exasperation. The old man chuckled as he watched his grandniece, marveling at her resourcefulness, before he was distracted and turned once again back to his work.
Engle slowed as she reached the door of her uncle’s home. She had been quite eager a few minutes ago to see the mysterious boy that had been placed in her charge, but now she was starting to have second thoughts. The mother realized that she didn’t even know how old the child was or what he looked like. All that she knew was that somehow he didn’t speak the tongue of men. How this could be she was unsure, but then again, there was a lot more to Middle Earth than in this little village, and things might be different in other lands. Cautiously she listened at the door for anything out of the ordinary, but instead heard a horrible, hacking cough. Frowning in consternation, she pushed open the door and entered the dark hut. Inside was disturbingly cold, and Engle noticed that there wasn’t a fire in the hearth. On Sam’s bed was a person with both hands clapped over their mouth, trying in vain to muffle the horrible, jarring coughs which sounded as if they were coming from deep in the lungs. The woman took tentative steps over to the bed, where she waited until the fit passed. The boy on the bed looked to be about fourteen, with long, dark hair and a pale face. His eyes were closed against the strain that coughing put on him, and he seemed not to notice Engle’s presence until the coughs finally died away and he opened bright silver eyes. Surprisingly he didn’t seem at all startled by seeing her sitting on the edge of the bed, and he greeted her politely. “Hello, my lady.” He said weakly, with a slight half-bow. She frowned a bit at this: hadn’t Sam told her that he didn’t speak Westron? She wondered if he had been mistaken, but quickly dismissed the notion. “Hello young man.” She said calmly. “My uncle sent me to see if you needed anything.” The boy shook his head, and then spouted what sounded like a well-practiced phrase, even if it was said a bit weakly. “I do not speak much of your language.” Engle immediately switched tactics. She smiled and spoke very slowly. “What language do you speak?” The young man nodded. “Elvish.” He said simply. The woman’s eyes went wide. “Elven?” She repeated dumbly. “You live with the elves?” The boy simply nodded, so she continued to stare at him for a little while. She noticed that he shifted uncomfortably, and once even brought his hand up to pinch his nose, eyes watering. She clucked to herself, verifying in her mind her original suspicion that this strange young man was indeed sick. ‘Little wonder,’ she thought ‘if he was out in that horrible storm last night.’ Making up her mind, she straightened up. “Will you come with me?” She asked. The boy’s frown showed that he didn’t understand what she had asked, so instead she gently grabbed his arm and tugged him off the bed. At first she was afraid that his legs wouldn’t hold his weight, but with a valiant effort he straightened shaking knees and stood by himself next to Engle. She put a hand on his shoulder and steered him across the little hut and out the door, noticing with a frown that his clothing was soaking wet. Wondering to herself whether he had re-dressed himself or if he’d slept in wet clothing, she began to guide him to her house down the street a few snowy blocks. With her mind elsewhere as she walked, she didn’t notice when the boy halted abruptly and she ran right into the unsteady teenager, sending them sprawling hard in the street.
Chapter Nine: Twins – Menaces to Society
Estel let himself be propelled down the street by the strange woman, wondering how much longer his legs were going to hold out. It had been a struggle getting out of the bed, but Estel had been sick before and knew that unless he wanted pity he needed to put on a brave face. His eyes wandered unseeingly over the houses standing in the dawn light. Hardly anyone was outside quite yet, but the occasional passerby or playing child would often spare him a quick stare as they passed. He almost chuckled to himself as he thought of the picture he must pose: long, braided hair and dripping wet elven-cloak being tousled by the wintry wind. In one of the yards a pair of boys had just emerged from one of the houses. ‘Funny,” he thought, ‘they’re waving at us.’ But when he looked harder, he stopped dead in his tracks. Two eerily familiar and identical faces were staring curiously at him. If he hadn’t known better he could have sworn that they were his brothers. But of course that couldn’t be. All further thought was cut off abruptly as he felt the strange woman collide with his back, sending him flying. Finely tuned reflexes saved him from cracking his head on the cobblestones: a swift twist of his torso and he landed heavily on waiting forearms as had been drilled into him on numerous occasions. The woman behind him performed a quick flailing of her arms to regain balance and a smart little skipping step over Estel’s outstretched legs, saving herself a fall. The young man bit his lower lip to keep from moaning as he got slowly regained his feet. He would have quite a bit of bruising on his arms in an hour or two, as he knew from experience, but aside from that he was unharmed. He verified that the woman was uninjured with a glance, but before he could do anything else he was interrupted by the twins that he had been the inadvertent cause of the little mishap. They swarmed upon the woman as she collected herself. “Are you alright, Mother?” Asked one anxiously. “What happened there?” “Yes, and who is this?” Chimed in the other hastily. The woman smiled and held up a hand for quiet. “Hold on you two!” She exclaimed with a flushed face. “Let us get inside before we all freeze, then we’ll sort this all out.” Estel was confused to say the least, not having been able to follow the conversation at all, but he allowed himself to be steered up the path to the house. Eagerly the two boys bounded inside, Estel and their mother following at a slower pace. They entered a house built right up on the street, with a white plank front and flowerboxes in the windows. Estel watched as the boys leaped around the room opening curtains.
// flashback //
Estel and his father sat across from each other at a wooden desk. Through a window in the study the young man could see his brothers up in a nearby tree, pulling faces at their foster brother to distract him from his lesson. Glancing back down at the list of Westron verbs in front of him, Estel posed a question for Elrond. “What would you call ‘Ro and ‘Dan in Westron, Ada?” The elf lord smiled. “Menaces to society’ might be the term that you are looking for, Estel.” The young edan had frowned. I mean, like how they’re exactly alike!” Still chuckling at his own joke, Elrond gave in. “Twins, that’s what they are Estel, twins. And they are your brothers. Remember that, twins and brothers.” Estel nodded, storing the information in the back of his head for later on, and then went back to his list of verbs.
// end flashback //
Estel was pressed down into a chair by the twins’ mother, who then said something to the boys before leaving the room. He obediently sat still, trying to stop his head spinning as it had been ever since his fall. The boys visibly settled down at whatever their mother said to them and sat obediently in a sofa across from the chair Estel was in. Looking around the room, the young man found it to be cheery and well furnished in homey colors and furniture. It was very unlike his home at Rivendell, but still nice in its own way. The chair he sat in was some kind of red velveteen, while the twins were sprawled across each other on a green striped couch. He smiled to himself as he realized that they were in one of his brothers’ favorite positions. Glancing up cautiously at them once more, Estel found that they were staring straight at him, as if sizing him up. Cautiously he decided to exercise his knowledge of their language. “Hello.” He ventured. One twin immediately perked up, the other didn’t bother to do more than look over at him. “Yes, hello to you as well. What is your name, stranger?” After taking a moment to digest this, he answered with an abashed, “Estel.” Seeing them trying not to laugh, he offered what he considered to be a lame excuse. “It is Elvish.” At this both of the boys sat up concurrently, banging into each other. “You speak Elvish?” Asked one. “Say something for us!” Chimed in the other. Estel paused, thinking. “Umm, yes, Elvish is my language and I could… speak… something for you.” At two enthusiastic nods, he continued. “My brothers tell me to mabo orch often. That means ‘kiss an orc’ in Elvish.” He hoped that this would satisfy the eager pair: something more complicated and graceful that sung praises to Arda’s beauty would be completely lost on them, but he felt that the crude humor might at least hold their interest for a while. Briefly glancing up to see identical broad grins on the twins’ faces, he looked down again and rubbed his temple aggressively, trying to make the world come into focus. It seemed to be swimming oddly in front of his face, distorting the inside of the house and making his boots change shape as he watched. He shook his head to clear his vision, but that only seemed to make things worse. Heaving a sigh, he closed his eyes and held still, listening to the pounding in his ears, pounding that was attuned to the beating of his heart. Distantly he wondered how sick he really was: he had been bed-ridden with a cold before, but never had he felt so… drained. He didn’t even look up at the sound of footsteps entering the room. He didn’t flinch when he felt a warm hand on his back, but instead looked up into the apprehensive face of the twins’ mother. Without saying a word she came around to the front of the chair, revealing a tray with four mugs and a teapot perched on it. Setting the whole platter down on an end table, she carefully poured out tea for all of them, handing one to Estel and letting the twins fetch theirs themselves. Estel discreetly sniffed at his before taking a sip: living with the greatest healer on Middle Earth and his twin terrors had taught Estel to always check anything that was offered to him in a teacup. Detecting no sleep-inducing herbs in the brew, the young man drank deeply of the hot liquid, letting the warmth of the tea seep into his chilled body. A night in wet clothes inside a frosty hut had done little to help whatever illness he had contracted, and the tea was the first thing he had put in his body for at least a day. Raising his eyes from his cup, he saw the three others in the room observing him closely. There was a tense silence before the mother broke the hush. “Are you feeling all right…” She searched for a name, which one of the twins gladly supplied for her. “Estel.” “…Estel?” The man in question ducked his head, rather hesitant to answer and thinking to hide the truth for the sake of not intruding upon hospitality. But when he saw the resolute look on the faces of the family members, he gave up and shrugged half-heartedly. The woman pounced on the opportunity and grabbed Estel’s arm, helping him to his feet. “Well then, I am sure that it’s nothing that a good bed rest will fix. We’ll get you some of Gareth or Garren’s clothes to sleep in while yours dry out, then we can pack you into a bed and you’ll sleep off whatever bug that’s got a hold of you.” Estel, not understanding more than a word or two of what was said, simply nodded mutely. Allowing himself to be wearily dragged up a flight of steps in the corner of the room, he found himself in a bedroom with a full sized bed and a dresser. A window looked over the street, but he took in very little of his surroundings, merely standing in a corner awaiting orders. The woman was rummaging through a closet down the hallway a bit, but presently came back with an armful of clothing. “Here you are.” She handed him what seemed to be a tunic and breeches, and then pointed to the bed. “When you’re dressed open the door before you go to sleep.” Estel, with a head that felt like jelly, nodded his assent to what he hoped was a correct translation of her statement. She left the room, closing the door behind her. Quickly Estel stripped off his wet clothing and tugging on a coal gray sleeping tunic and tan breeches that were both several sizes too large for him. Right then he didn’t care, though. The man had barely collapsed onto the bed when he blacked out, leaving all the cares of the world to be dealt with another time.
Chapter Ten: Sansdale
Elladan slowed his horse gradually, easing the animal back from its full-fledged gallop to a brisk trot, and from there into a walk. His twin continued a bit further down the road before realizing that his brother had stopped, but eventually halted and waited for Elladan to catch up. Reaching back and slapping his horse appreciatively on the flank, Elrohir walked his horse next to Elladan’s, traveling for a while in companionable silence. The twins had discovered that it really wasn’t as hard to wait if you were actually doing something about the situation instead of twiddling your thumbs back at home. And for sure they were certainly doing something about the situation: they had already been to three towns along the road. None of the villagers had seen any sign of a young man on a dapple-gray horse, but there were still plenty of towns left to check. As an added precaution, Elladan had even consented to attach a bell to his horse’s bridle: a trick often used by searching elves in case their quarry was hiding off of the road. The annoying tinkling of the little bell was bearable as long as it might be helping them to find their little brother. Even if, as Elrohir had helpfully pointed out, it was bound to bring any orc within a mile flocking to attack them. Finally Elladan broke the silence. “Ro, aren’t we coming up on another town soon?” The younger twin frowned for a moment as he recalled maps of the area, but soon nodded his assent. “Sansdale, isn’t it?” He commented. “Yes, I do believe we should be there shortly. Are we stopping?” Elladan rolled his eyes. The two had already agreed that they were stopping in every village, no matter how small. To pass by the one place that their brother was just because they felt that he couldn’t possibly stop in a town so small would be a mistake not easily forgiven by the twins. As they traveled further down the road a dark patch in the distance could be discerned from the area surrounding it. A wall of stout logs sharpened to a point at one end surrounded the town, forming a palisade type wall, which was fairly efficient in attacks as long as they didn’t include fire. The two horses along with their riders drew closer to the little town of Sansdale, and as if on cue the mounted elves flipped their hoods up as was the standard routine when the twins visited towns of men. Turning from the main road, the two made their way along the path that led to the village’s gate. Without a word they made their way to the gate in the wall. The outline of a spy hole was visible to elven eyes where it would normally have lain concealed, and it was there that Elladan knocked, knowing it to be the thinnest place in the wall. A moment’s wait was all that was required before the peephole slid aside to reveal the face of a young man with a messy shock of blonde hair. He spoke out in a bored voice after looking over the newcomers with a critical eye. “State your names and purpose in Sansdale.” Such was the time-honored greeting given to all strangers seeking entrance to the town. With a quick glance at one another, Elrohir charismatically took control of the situation. “My name is Ero, and my brother is Dan.” As he said this he heard an almost imperceptible snort from his twin. The slightly younger elf had no doubt in his mind that Elladan was turning blue from restrained laughter. “We are searching for someone, we were hoping that someone in this town might have spotted him.” The man at the gate looked suspiciously at the two for a moment, seeming to ponder their intentions before finally sliding the portal shut with a nod and a bang. Quickly the two elves backed their horses up a bit, allowing the heavy gate to be pushed open by the man inside. A lantern was clutched in his hand, held up as if to stave off the swiftly oncoming night. The twins were beckoned inside the gates of the small town, and in they proceeded to go, looking carefully around them as their horses clopped onto the cobbled street, the noise of their hooves barely muffled by the snow coating the ground. The gate was pushed shut behind the pair by the gate-warden, and they waited patiently until he finished. At least it looked as if they waited patiently. In all reality they were chomping at the bit even more so than the mounts that they sat upon. It pained them to spend too much time in any one town when there were hundreds of other places to search. For all they knew their little brother could be stuck in a snow drift by the side of the road, freezing to death while they sat and waited for a scrawny gatekeeper to push closed a door far too big for him. For the moment, however, the twins kept their peace and waited until the man came up to them, huffing and wiping his hands off on his trousers. A brief smile was flashed in their direction, and then the man put his hands on his hips and cocked his head to the side. “So my good young fellows, who is it that you be looking for?” Elrohir rolled his eyes at the words ‘good young fellow’ coming from the mouth of this cocky upstart, but he bit his tongue and let Elladan do the talking. “A young lad, barely fifteen, on a gray horse and sporting a green cloak. We were hoping that he might have wandered this way.” The gatekeeper pondered this for a moment, but then shook his head. “I’m not the man to ask, no, ’tis old Sam that you’ll be wanting to question. He’s the right and proper warden here, you see. I’m just doing him a favor by watching the old pile of logs while he gets his sleep. Apparently there was some commotion last night that kept him up, and I owed him a good turn. He’s training me up for when he retires, he is.” An exaggerated wink was tossed at the mounted elves, both of whom were itching to shut the man’s mouth and move on. “Well, where might we find this Sam, young man?” Elrohir said with slight exaggeration on the last words, earning a frown from the blonde man and an incredibly false sounding cough from his twin. Right then, however, the younger elf didn’t care if the man brought the whole town down upon him for his ‘insolence.’ All he wanted to do was verify that his brother hadn’t passed this way and then move on. The two were perfectly capable of traveling through then night, just as they had been for the past several days. All they needed was a nod from whoever Sam was for them to be on their way to the next town. Unfortunately, the know-it-all that currently manned the gate seemed to have a different idea. “Oh no, I’m afraid that I can’t let you in to see Sam, otherwise what’s the point of being off work if yer kept awake half the night anyways?” At this Elladan growled in frustration, but the sandy-headed young man continued on obliviously. “Now let me just point you in the direction of the Snoring Dragon, and you can skip back over to the gate at dawn to ask old Sam.” Without warning the man was at the horses’ heads, grabbing for reins to lead the two steeds by. When his hands found only air, Elrohir resorted to drastic measures. Pretending in the dark to loop the reins tighter around his hands, the elf kicked his horse forwards a bit, Elladan catching on and following suit. “Just point us to the nearest boarding house, my fine man, for we have no desire to stay at an inn tonight. Still suspicious, the blonde man merely nodded and started walking with the twins following behind. A little way down the street they came to a white-fronted establishment with a small placard next to the door reading ‘Barnum’s Boarding Bunk’ in bold letters with ‘and eatery’ below it in smaller text. The man stopped, pointing at the house. “I know ye can’t see it from here, but that’s the place ye’ll want to be. Now, for your horses you will need to go to the inn, for that’s the only place ye’ll find stalls to let. It’s right down the street and on the left, very hard to miss. The stables are around the back, but I’m afraid I must return to the gate. Can’t be neglecting duty, can I?” The twins nodded, willing to do just about anything to get the blonde to leave. As soon as he was out of hearing-range the two nudged their horses closer to each other. “So, what’s the plan, El?” asked Elrohir with a weary smile. His brother rolled his eyes at him. “Why’d you have to tell him that we would stay the night?” He demanded. “We could have just gone back out and waited for dawn. Elrohir shook his head. “I would have agreed to anything to get him to stop groping for the reins. What do you think he would have done if he’d realized that the horses bear no tack? We’re lucky enough as it is that it was already dark enough that he couldn’t see us clearly!” Reluctantly Elladan made a noise of assent, and without a word the two dismounted, swinging gracefully off their horses and landing on top of the snow. “Shall I take the horses, or do you want the task?” Elrohir asked with a mocking smile. He knew that His brother would rather tend to the animals than exercise public relations skills, though the elder would never admit it. Grumpily Elladan waved his twin away before starting up the short path to the front door of the boarding house. A firm knock on the door brought a dark-haired youth to open it for him. “May I help you, sir?” He asked in a polite voice. Elladan fidgeted slightly. “Yes, my brother and I were wondering if you had a vacant room for the night.” Craning his neck to see over the tall elf, the boy searched for any sign of the aforementioned brother, but when he came up lacking, opened the door all the way for Elladan. “He will be along shortly, after seeing to the horses.” Offered Elladan by way of explanation. Seemingly satisfied, the boy nodded and stepped aside, allowing Elladan to step into a warm hallway. The teenager squeezed past him, and then led the way back into a cozy sitting room. Waving his hand at the couches as an invitation for the visitor to seat himself, he walked up to one of the doorways leading from the room and bellowed in an extremely impressive manner. “Garren! Get Mother!” A disgruntled yelp and several ominous thumps were heard somewhere in the bowels of the building. With a sigh Elladan lowered his hood and placed his cloak upon a half-filled rack before seating himself in a red armchair. Before long a small woman clumped down a stairwell at the end of the hallway, then poked her head into the room. “Gareth!” She exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air. “Why didn’t you say that we had a guest?” Gareth smiled. “And another on the way, apparently.” The woman smiled quickly before entering the room all the way. “Well, my name is Engle, I run this establishment with my husband Erron. Is there anything we can do for you master…” She died off, waiting for a name. “Elladan.” The elf supplied. “And my brother’s…” Here he was cut off by persistent knocking at the front door. “… Name is Elrohir. He would probably appreciate being let in.” He added a smile to the last statement, finishing it off as a joke. Gareth got up and ran down the hallway to open the door, while Engle continued her questioning. “Younger or older brother, master Elladan?” The elf smiled. “Younger, but…” “…Only by a few minutes.” Elrohir finished his statement from the doorway. Engle smiled, nodding her head knowingly. “Gareth and Garren should be happy. Finally they found someone other than their parents to pester.” Elrohir was at this time dragged into the room by a panting Gareth. As the teenager opened his mouth, Elladan motioned to his twin to cover his ears, which Elrohir thankfully consented to. “Ay, Garren, get down here!” Came another roar. When the teenager glanced over at Elrohir and noticed that their guest had his fingers stuck in his ears, he grinned sheepishly and shrugged in apology. “Sorry ’bout that, but it’s impossible to hear anything short of a shout on the other side of the house. “That’s quite all right.” Elladan chimed in. “I think Elrohir’s ears needed cleaning anyways.” He winked to his twin who played along, daintily wiping his two forefingers off on his trouser legs. Someone laughed from one of the doorways, and the twins noticed another boy exactly identical to Gareth. “Oh, so you’re the famous Garren that we’ve heard so little from. Tell me, can you yell as loud as your brother or is it a special gift?” That brought a chuckle from Engle, who had moved over and was relieving Elrohir of the two’s packs. “Now there, let’s get you settled in a room before we get off track, shall we?” The elves nodded and obediently followed her up a creaking wooden staircase. Another hallway was revealed, and the woman brought out a key from one of her apron pockets. She walked quietly over to the third door down and unlocked it before handing Elladan the key. Pushing the door all the way open, she showed them into a small room with two half-beds. She spoke much more softly as she set the packs down on a chair in the corner. “Quietly now, wouldn’t want to wake the young man sleeping next door.” The twins weren’t really listening, however, as they both attempted to stalk around the room at once. There was very little room to walk, seeing as the beds and small chair took up most of it. Engle went on however. “There’s a washroom down the hall on the right, and I can probably get one of the boys to bring you up something to eat. Dinner’s already been served, you see, but there should still be something left in the cupboard.” Elladan smiled politely and thanked the woman. Engle backed carefully out of the room, shutting the door softly behind her. Elrohir’s elven hearing heard her shuffling around in the next room, having a one-sided conversation with someone. Smiling slightly, he turned back to his twin, who was now staring out of the small, curtained window. There wasn’t much of a view, just the sight of the snowy street and the houses across the road. The daylight was all but spent, but the keen eyes of the elf were still able to make out the people below with ease. Elladan sighed before turning away from the window and pulling the curtains closed. His twin was already sitting on one of the beds, pulling off his boots and socks. The elder eldar grimaced and pulled an exaggerated face, waving a hand before his nose as if attempting to ward off the foul smell. Elrohir simply rolled his eyes and continued to ignore his brother. The twins had already stripped down to breeches when a knock on the door was heard. They spun to face each other before peering suspiciously back at the door. “You answer it.” Hissed Elladan in Sindarin. His brother wore an incredulous face. “Why me? I always have to answer the door, and it always turns out to be someone that wants to either hurt us or drench me in ice cold water.” Elladan snarled. “You are closer to the door, dear brother of mine!” Resignedly Elrohir threw a light shirt on, tucked his hair back behind his ears, and opened the door. Gareth and Garren were both waiting patiently with trays of food and pitchers of drink. A disgruntled Elrohir squinted in the brighter light of the hallway before realizing why they were there and stepping back so that they could enter the room. The boys, however, didn’t move, but continued to stare at the dark-haired elf as if their lives depended upon it. With a frown, Elrohir playfully waved a hand in front of the twin who he figured was Gareth. “Hello? Are you still there?” He asked with a little grin. The boy in the back shook his head as if to clear his vision, then brought a hand up to his ear. Realizing his mistake, the younger elf closed his eyes with a quick prayer to the Valar. “Why don’t you boys… come in for a talk?” He said, hoping against all hope that everything would work itself out.
Chapter Eleven: And About Time!
Elladan listened in mute horror to his twin’s conversation with the boys. When the two boys were silent for so long he automatically guessed what happened, then cursed himself for not noticing before he had sent Elrohir to the door. As the slightly younger elf ushered the two young men inside, he exchanged glances with his fretting twin. “What do we do?” he mouthed silently over Garren’s head. Elrohir graced his brother with the smallest of shrugs, before relieving Gareth, who was standing dumbly with his tray, of the food. Elladan nodded his head to the bed across from him that Elrohir had claimed, and the twin men sat down upon it in unison. Elrohir leaned against the wall on the right side of the room and reached out with one bare foot, snagging the strap of his pack that lay halfway under his bed. Both of the teenagers watched silently as the canvas bag slid across the floor and staring curiously as the elf picked up the pack and began rummaging through it. Elladan, deciding that his brother wasn’t going to be much of a help in this, broke the silence. Uncovering one of the trays, he picked up a hunk of bread. “So, is there something the matter?” The twin men looked at each other, and Garren spoke up. “You aren’t men, are you? I mean, I’ve certainly never seen any of our kind with ears like those!” With this he jerked a thumb at Elrohir, who was now up to his elbows in his bag with his tongue between his teeth and his brow furrowed. Elladan sighed and turned back to face the twins. “Well, that would be a long story. You have heard of dwarves before, haven’t you?” Both of the boys’ eyes grew wide with horror. “Y-you two are… dwarves?” Exclaimed one of them. “NO, sweet Eru no!” I just wanted to know!” Said Elladan with a cruel grin. “Elrohir and I are elves, from Rivendell to be precise.” Elladan knew that they most likely didn’t understand the elven humor, but it made the elf shake with silent mirth. Estel had always said that it took a great deal of perception to be able to tell when one of the firstborn was joking and when they were serious, but it had sure been funny to watch the twins’ identical looks of horror. Now one of the boys wore a puzzled frown, but the other seemed to understand. “We’ve all heard stories about you, of course… It’s just that no one has ever actually seen an elf here before. The odd ranger is the most out-of-the-ordinary that we seem to get around here.” The other boy nodded his agreement to this, and Elladan gave what he hoped was an encouraging smile. Glancing over at his brother, he was just in time to see Elrohir emerge triumphant from his bout with his pack. Throwing a grin at the seated beings in the room, Elrohir grandly pulled out a bit of string from the canvas bag. “Found it!” He declared exultantly. With a flourish he tied his hair, braids and all, into a horsetail, making sure to cover the tips of his pointed ears. Elladan groaned, slapping a hand over his brow. “Ai Elladan, mabo orch.” He exclaimed in the gray tongue. At this the two identical boys on the bed opposite him looked at each other and leaped off the bed simultaneously. “We did not know you could speak that tongue!” Exclaimed one. “Shh, follow me.” Interrupted the other. “And careful that mother doesn’t catch us!” Before he really knew what was happening, Elladan found himself pulled off the bed and dragged out the door, tripping over Elrohir’s dropped pack as he went. The odd procession halted at the door right next to theirs, and the foremost boy held a finger to his lips to signal quiet. “We haven’t been able to understand much of what he said.” He whispered. “But you can probably help.” Finished the other. Without another word one of them eased the door to the room open, and the elven twins had time to throw only one quick, puzzled look at each other before they were prodded inside.
Elrohir was the first of the elven twins to enter the room, and what he saw puzzled him a bit. A mass of dark, damp curls protruded from underneath a heavy coverlet, and one pale hand emerged over the side of the bed that the person was lying on. Quietly he glided over to the bed and moved the top of the blanket down to reveal the rest of the back of this person’s head. An unusual scar on the back of their neck stopped him in his tracks, however.
// flashback //
“El, El, watch this!” Elrohir looked up to see his ten-year-old brother perched high in the branches of one of Rivendell’s many trees. “Estel! Not so high, you will hurt yourself!” The elf called, shading his eyes with a slender hand as he peered up into the foliage. “Just watch, Elrohir, I have done this hundreds of times before!” “Estel…” The elf was worried now; his little brother was balanced precariously on a thin branch that swayed with his weight. With a showy air about him, the young edan quickly stood up to his full height. Not anticipating the branch above him, Estel cracked his head squarely on it, causing his vision to go blurry and him to lose his balance. Elrohir watched in horror as his baby brother toppled backwards off the limb and began the long descent down. The elf dropped his book and ran to the base of the tree, though not quickly enough to prevent anything happening to the young man. Estel hit what seemed to be every branch in the tree with sickening cracks and moans. Elrohir stood rooted to the spot where he stood, afraid to climb the tree lest his brother fall to the ground while he was in the air. After what seemed like an eternity to the frantic elf, Estel had finally bounced out of the tree. Elrohir caught him before he hit the ground, but the damage had already been done. Both legs and an arm were at horrifying angles, terrible red lacerations covered almost every exposed area of flesh on the boy’s body, and Elrohir’s hands were quickly becoming slick with blood coming from the back of his brother’s neck. Sobbing, the elf had run with the child to the healing wing, passing several confused elves on the way. Someone must have alerted his father, for he had barely laid the young man on a bed when Lord Elrond ran into the room, already giving orders. Elrohir stood impatiently as Estel’s broken bones were splinted and the gash on the back of his neck was stitched. He thought to himself that the boy would have an odd, crescent scar on his neck, but the thought was quickly displaced by the more pressing need to fetch more water for his father.
// end flashback //
“Estel!” Elrohir practically shouted. His twin was at his side in a flash, and they both managed to gently yet quickly flip the boy onto his back. Elrohir heard a gasp at his side and knew that his twin was just as shocked at the state of their younger brother as he was himself. The young man’s face was stark white, his whole body was drenched with sweat, and his breathing was harsh and irregular. “Oh no.” came a moan from his twin, and in a flash Elrohir’s fingers had snuck up under the boy’s chin, while Elladan had his ear pressed against Estel’s chest. With a sigh of relief, the younger elf pulled his hand away from his brother’s throat after finding a pulse, bringing it up to lay the back of it against his sweaty brow. Drawing it away quickly as if he had been burned, Elrohir nodded to his twin, who had one eye open as he listened to the boy’s breathing. Without a word Elrohir brushed past the two extremely startled boys in the doorway and flew as if on eagles’ wings back to their room. Scooping up both packs, he slung his onto his back and rummaged through Elladan’s as he walked, searching for the bag of healing supplies he knew that his brother carried. When he re-entered the other room, the two boys were no longer there, but Elrohir had eyes only for his little brother, the boy that they had searched for so long for. Elladan had not moved from his position, but now had both eyes closed and a hand lying over Estel’s heart. Moving so that he was sitting on the edge of the bed near his human brother’s head, he pulled several herbs and a small bowl out of the previously evasive healer’s bag. Balancing the bowl on his knee, he delved once more into the pack and fished out a water skin. Combining herbs and water in the bowl, he stirred it with a forefinger until the greenish substance turned into a sort of paste. Frowning, the elf looked up at a noise in the doorway. Engle stood halfway across the threshold, hands on hips and a scowl in place. “There now!” She exclaimed harshly. “I’ll not have you bothering the poor lad. Let him rest and back to your room if you do not want to find yourselves on the doorstep!” With that she bustled into the room and swept up the pack that Elrohir had left lying on the floor. Elrohir rose to his feet with a small flash of annoyance. “You do not understand…” He was abruptly cut off by the petite woman’s firm hand on his back, trying to steer him out of the room. He threw an aggravated look at Elladan, who had by some miracle managed to save the bowl of paste and was spreading it on Estel’s exposed chest. The look in his eyes clearly said ‘you deal with her, I will do what I can here.’ Elrohir sighed and firmly planted his feet, not allowing the woman to move him. “Please, listen to what I have to say!” He exclaimed, trying very hard to keep a leash on his temper. It was hard beyond words for him to see his baby brother who he had helped to raise lying sick in a room in this strange town, and Engle’s trying to prevent him from caring for the young man immediately was starting to grate on his nerves. The woman frowned, but temporarily held her peace. Her eyes followed the movement of Elladan’s hands as he finished smearing the herbal paste on the boy’s chest and looked around for a towel before wiping his hand off on his breeches. “My lady, please, we are doing absolutely nothing that could possibly be detrimental to our brother’s health. Right now we are far more interested on saving Estel’s life than hurting him in any way!” Elrohir tried to explain with his last shred of patience. The woman turned her head back to look at him with a slightly unbelieving gaze, but finally she stepped aside, allowing Elrohir to rejoin his brothers. “Fire.” Elladan called from the bed, and Elrohir automatically turned to the hearth, wondering where he could find flint and tinder to strike up a blaze. A small nudge at his elbow redirected his attention to one of the twin boys, who was pointing out the door. “There’s some supplies in the hall closet, shall I start a fire?” The young man asked, trying to be helpful. Elrohir nodded hastily. “Hannon le.” He said absently, not really caring if the boy couldn’t understand what had been said. With a sigh, the young elf went back over to the bed. One look at his foster brother’s pale face told him that there was only one thing that was certain right now: that it was going to be a long night.
Chapter Twelve: Awakening
Birds were singing outside as Estel woke up from what seemed to have been a long and painful nightmare. Right now he was smothering hot, and it seemed that his ada had once again become worried about his comfort in the night and piled one too many quilts on him. Restlessly he tried kicking off his blankets, only to have firm hands pin his shoulders down. For some odd reason he heard his brother’s voice above him. “Ro, quick, he’s starting up again!” It was Elladan shouting for his twin, though about what Estel had no clue. “I thought this was over!” Cried Elrohir from the foot of the bed, and suddenly Estel’s feet were being held stationary as well. “Apparently not, though we broke the fever last night!” Responded Elladan with a sigh. Estel was now quite aggravated. “Lemme go, Dan!” He whispered. The boy could feel his brother jerk in surprise, and the pressure on his shoulders disappeared. “What did you say, Estel?” Asked Elladan in a hushed voice, sounding almost as if he didn’t believe his ears. Estel opened his eyes slowly, struggling against the heaviness that seemed to be weighing heavily on his eyelids. He saw at a glance two swimming faces, but once they came into focus he could eventually make out the identical faces of his brothers. Both of them looked worried, and Elladan looked vaguely pale. Estel, around his newfound headache, decided that he was going to force his brothers outside more often. “Well little brother,” asked Elrohir with a deadly ring of calmness in his steady voice. “What have you to say for yourself? I do hope you have a very good reason for dragging us all the way out here.” At this Estel’s face fell and his eyes threatened to spill over with tears. The approval of his brothers meant the world to him, and if his heroes were mad at him for getting caught in the storm, there was not much he could do but suck up his tears and try to weather out their wrath. Elladan, however, seemed to have different plans. Estel watched in mute fascination as he calmly punched his twin in the stomach, doubling the other elf over and causing him to stagger back a few paces. Before he really knew what was going on he was enfulged in a strong pair of arms that smelled faintly of jasmine and another herb that his cloudy mind couldn’t quite place. Sighing softly, the young man allowed himself to relax in his brother’s embrace. He felt the odd sensation of his hair being ruffled, and he knew that Elrohir was behind him, though he had not even noticed when the spry elf sat on the bed. “I was but fooling with you, tithen pen.” //little one// Came the soft voice at his back, and Estel nodded into Elladan’s shirt. The trio stayed like that for long minutes, and it was like such that Engle found them. Readjusting the tray that she carried, she stood quietly in the doorway, not willing to interrupt the private scene that she found herself spectator to. She was not quiet enough, however, to evade notice by an elf, and Elrohir quietly detached himself from his brothers, easing off the bed with a nearly inaudible creak. He drew Engle back out into the hallway, but Estel felt him go by and looked up. Seeing the woman in the doorway he raised a hand and waved to her. She smiled warmly before stepping back into the hallway with the elf. Estel sighed wearily, and Elladan immediately took over. “Oh no you don’t, tithen gwador, not until you drink this.” //little brother// He pushed a cup towards the young man, and Estel examined it suspiciously before looking back up at his elven brother. “Just water?” He asked with a trace of incredulity in his voice. Elladan laughed aloud. “Just water.” He assured. “Now drink it and you can go back to sleep!” Estel complied, and then allowed himself to be pushed back onto the bed. “Now sleep Estel, just close your eyes.” Elladan murmured above him. With the slightest hint of a smile Estel allowed himself to be lulled into dark, comforting oblivion by the gentle words and soft promises of his oldest brother. The last thing he noticed before his eyelids drooped was the large green smear on his brother’s breeches. ‘Silly ‘Dan.’ He thought to himself. ‘Must remind him to use his shirt next time, it makes one look much more rugged.’
Engle stood across the hallway from the boarding house’s tall guest. He and his twin had surely given her quite a bit of a fright the night before. Gareth and Garren had barged into the kitchen while she was cleaning up the night before, yelling that their latest guests were manhandling Sam’s little lost ‘Elf-Man,’ as they liked to call Estel. All of her maternal instincts had immediately kicked in, and she turned from Engle the quiet housewife to Engle the ferocious she-bear. In a huff she had stormed up the stairs that led to the guest rooms, ready to fling the visiting twins out on their tails, snow or no snow. Greeted with the sight of one ‘man’ with his head on the young boy’s chest and the other mixing up some green concoction, she had immediately tried to pull the one away. Her immediate suspicions about their family ties had been quickly dispelled when she had watched them tend to the raven-haired boy all throughout the night. It seemed to be a familiar pattern for the two, as a matter of fact, with them taking turns administering various liquids and carefully monitoring what she assumed to be his ‘status.’ Something about the two had seemed rather out of place, though she couldn’t put her finger on it. At least not until she noticed how the one twin, whom she gathered to be Elrohir through his conversations with his brother, had his hair tied over the tips of his ears. The other’s brown braids seemed always to cover his ears as well, and it hadn’t taken the sharp-minded woman too long to put two and two together. Now, as she stood looking at the patient elf, she decided not to mince words and instead cut straight to the point. “So, will you at least tell me how a boy such as Estel ended up with elven brothers?” The briefest glimmer of surprise flickered across the elf’s face, but it was quickly schooled back into a mask of indifference. Neither affirming nor denying her discovery, he answered the question in the way that only one of the eldar could: without really addressing any of her queries at all. “Estel’s story is long and complicated, yet nothing that is urgent or pressing in nature. It is enough to know that his parents were killed when he was quite small, and that my father adopted him. Estel has been living in Rivendell for years now, and it is his home.” Elrohir heard the door being shut quietly behind him. “Just as we are his brothers.” Said Elladan with a smile. “Races have nothing at all to do with the matter.” The tone of voice that his words held was kind, but signaled the end of that topic of conversation. Engle nodded sagely, contemplating the elves’ words. “I see. Now, is Estel going to eat a bite of supper, or is he going for malnourishment on top of other illnesses?” Elrohir turned briefly to his twin, already half-suspecting what the answer would be. “Nys, he is already sound asleep. I consider myself graced by fortune that he woke up long enough to get liquid in him.” //no// Engle shrugged and handed Elrohir the tray that she had been holding. “Well, if your brother is asleep, set this down on the table in his room and come down to the dining room. You can sup there and get some hot food into you.” She noticed the moment’s hesitation as the two exchanged glances, and then with a little shrug Elrohir silently re-entered the dark room. Engle could tell that the elves were loath to leave their brother, but perhaps they felt that Estel wouldn’t stir for some time. Thinking about it, she decided that they were most likely right: the boy was barely out of danger and most likely needed much more rest. Quietly the elves and the woman padded down the hallway towards food and away from hope.
Chapter Thirteen: Up So Soon?
Two tousle-headed young men tried their best to quietly push open the door of the elves’ room. From the looks of it the room hadn’t been entered since the night before: there were clothes strewn all over the place as if someone had dumped them out of a pack while looking for something else. One canvas bag still lay on the bed near the window, and it was towards this that the boys headed. Exchanging a mischievous look, one of the boys sat next to the bed and gingerly pulled the top of the bag open, revealing a jumble of clothing and supplies hashed together by days of hard riding. A long, ebony handle jutted out of the side of the mess of garments, and gingerly Gareth tugged at it until a long, sheathed knife was exposed. Beckoning his twin closer, the boy hesitantly unsheathed the bright silver blade, and both twins leaned closer to inspect the runes and decorations on the knife. With a mischievous grin, Garren poked his brother’s shoulder, causing the awestruck boy to jump slightly in surprise. The dark-haired boy pointed over to the other bed, where an identical knife lay, scabbard attached to the belt the knife was obviously worn on. Playfully the other twin darted over to the weapon on pulled it gingerly out of its sheathe before bringing it up into what he had heard older boys refer to as the “guard position.” His brother raised his ‘borrowed’ weapon as well, and soon the boys were mock fighting, blades never quite hitting each other for fear of making too much noise. As they circled around the room, both twins were too caught up in the thrill of playing with such elegant weapons that they never noticed the creaking of the heavy wooden door. It was only when a slight draft from the hallway caught Gareth’s attention that he looked up, planning on closing the door. His twin, noticing that his brother had stopped and was now staring at the threshold of the room, gave a small jerk of surprise and dropped the knife that he had been holding. Wedged in the small opening between the door and its frame was the boy that their mother had brought home the day before. His long, black hair was mussed up and stood at odd angles to his scalp, and his silver eyes were slightly glazed over as if he had just woken up. He made an almost comical picture, Gareth’s worn old sleeping pants contrasting sharply with the soft, yet nevertheless fine elven tunic that he hadn’t been wearing before his brothers had arrived. As the twin men gazed guiltily at him, it seemed almost as if he had a look of disbelief on his countenance, as if he couldn’t quite believe that these strangers were truly sparring with his brothers’ knives. Gareth let his arm drop down to his side, wondering apprehensively whether the boy would call for his brothers or just start lecturing them in his own odd tongue. Estel, however, slipped the rest of the way inside the messy room and began to walk towards the twins. Without saying a word, he held out his hand palm up and kept on advancing towards the other young man, who unconsciously took a few steps back. Estel, with eyes slightly clouded by illness and sleep, failed to notice what was going on at floor level, his eyes fixed on the retreating boy in front of him. Without warning, he tripped over something lying on the floor, briefly feeling a searing pain run through the sole of his foot He dropped instinctively to the ground, numb mind registering that Elladan’s knife had the edge of its blade digging into the arch of his bare foot. A frown appeared on his face, and once again he cursed himself aloud for his edain clumsiness. Muttering, he gingerly maneuvered his leg so that it was in front of him, and with a wince slowly slid it out of his skin, grimacing once more as blood began to well up in the narrow wound. Looking around him for something to wipe the blade on, his eyes found that the twins were no longer in the room. That really didn’t surprise the young man: Estel supposed that if it had been him caught red-handed with someone else’s weapons, he wouldn’t have waited around for very long either. ‘Probably afraid that I will tell Dan and Ro.’ He thought with a shadow of a grin. Settling for cleaning the blade on the strap of Elrohir’s pack, he dug through the contents of the bag with his free hand. After a while he found his quarry: a pair of socks. Slipping both socks over his bleeding foot, he extracted another pair from the bowels of the canvas pack and put one on the other foot, tossing the other back on top of the rest of the clothing and miscellaneous items in the bag. Sighing, he pushed himself off the ground, scanning the small room with weary silver eyes for a moment before finding the knife’s sheathe. Replacing the weapon in its holder, Estel turned and limped slightly as he left the room. With a sigh the young man absently realized that he would have to seriously correct his stride if he wished his little mishap to escape his hovering brothers’ notice. With a fair bit of effort the boy walked more slowly and applied equal pressure to each foot as he walked. Coming to a heavily decorated landing and narrow staircase, Estel paused and leaned on the wooden banister. He could hear voices coming from downstairs, and a merry laugh floated up to the young man’s ears. Shaking his head, the boy tackled the stairs slowly, following the sounds of an animated conversation through the maze of hallways that the boarding house seemed to consist of. Finally, after several wrong turns and what seemed like hours of retracing his steps, Estel came upon what seemed to be a cheery parlor. There were several men and women sitting on couches and in chairs there, along with Engle and his elven brothers. As he hovered in the open doorway, one of the men, a blonde with bright blue eyes who looked to be about thirty, glanced in his direction before nudging Elrohir. “Eh, Elladan, is that ‘im?” He asked with a slight chuckle. Elrohir’s head immediately jerked over to where the man was pointing, and for once the elf didn’t even correct the blonde man’s mistake. “Estel!” He exclaimed, causing the real Elladan to jump about an inch off the chair he was reclined in. “Why are you up?” Spoken in Westron for the sake of those in the room who would feel uncomfortable about being excluded, the comment drew the attention of most of the people gathered in the room, including that of Engle, who had been bustling about with a bowl of something or other. She saw Estel leaning on the doorframe and smiled, turning back to her original task when she saw that the young man’s brothers were already at his side and half-dragging him in the general direction of the staircase. “Elrohir, let me go.” Protested the dark-haired boy weakly. This fetched a snort from one twin and a shake of the head from the other, neither of whom paused a moment in their attempts at removing their baby brother from the company of those in the bright room. Most of the men and women in the parlor were now smiling as they watched the confrontation between the brothers: to them it was but a bit of humor to brighten up their evening and add flavor to their drinks. But for Elladan it was not a laughing matter at all. He almost growled in frustration at his younger sibling. The fact that he was up and about less than a day after such a taxing illness was confusing to the dark-haired elf. He shouldn’t have woken until the next morning at the absolute earliest. Nothing that the half-elf could think of could possibly have raised the child from such a slumber. But even if he was walking about, all the movement couldn’t possibly be anything but detrimental to the young man’s health. Elladan knew it, and he knew without asking that his twin was also aware of the fact that Estel easily could have died if he had been left untreated for much longer. They were blessed as it was that his cold and fever hadn’t erupted into a full-fledged bout with pneumonia. The elf was sure, however, that his younger brother certainly had no clue how perilous his situation had been, and in fact still was. He growled quietly, pondering the idea that perhaps Estel enjoyed making his life miserable. Elrohir, as if reading his twin’s mind, smiled at his brother over Estel’s dark head. “Deep breaths brother, we don’t want to startle anyone.” Elladan smiled, realizing just how overprotective he was being towards the child. Estel looked up with a pout evident on his boyish face, looking between the twins as if sizing up whether they would release his before or after they completely cut off the circulation to his forearms. “Promise that you will behave, tithen gwador?” He asked the young man with only a hint of a grin gracing his fair features. Estel nodded solemnly, and his arms were released. Instantly a hand on his back began to steer the child down the hallway and back towards the stars that he had decended only a few moments before. As they left several nondescript farewells were aimed at the elves and the younger brother that they had seen so briefly. The attention of the majority was held but briefly before returning to whatever matters had been the focus of discussion before the interruption; namely the storm. Estel could hear the chatter pick up in velocity once more as they padded up the stairwell, the boy trying not to cringe as his foot supported more of his weight every time he proceeded up a stair. “Who would have thought that a cut would trouble me so much after all that my body has been through these last few days.” He thought absently as they finally reached the top of the stairs and he was propelled straight towards his room. As soon as the door to the dark room was pushed open, the twins went into healer mode, leaving Estel to sit on the bed and watch blearily as they bustled around the room. In a matter of minutes the efficient elves had gotten a fire started in the hearth, warmed a cup of something that Estel was downright afraid of, and went making things more comfortable for their brother. Elrohir disappeared for a moment to retrieve something for the young man’s congestion from his pack, while his twin busied himself by tucking Estel under several layers of blankets that had gravitated to the bed during their short stay in the house. After checking the concoction simmering near the flames and restlessly brushing the draperies so that they hung straight, Elladan finally gave up and stuck his head out into the hallway. “Ro, what on Arda is taking you so long?” He hissed into the empty hallway, knowing that his twin could easily hear him from the next room. Elrohir’s slightly muffled voice drifted back to him. “Sorry.” He muttered in a disgruntled manner. “Gods-cursed vials have all rolled under the bed. Pack must have gotten upset in all the hurry.” Estel gave into a brief bout of chuckles, which, as they were wont to, turned into a coughing fit. Elladan was immediately at his brother’s side, pulling the young boy back up and leaning him forward. Trying to shift so that Estel could brace himself against his arms, Elladan began to fret as honking coughs plagued the young man. “Elrohir! Now!” He seethed. “Coming!” The other elf called from the neighboring room. A brief scuffling sound was heard, and then Elrohir reappeared, rushing through the doorway with a glass vial clutched in one hand. Floating over to the bed, the elf leant his brothers support as he hurriedly uncorked the vial and held it under the man’s nose. For a moment there was no reaction, but slowly the coughing relented and Estel was once again pushed without a fuss back against the pillows, all dignity having fled as he hacked his lungs out onto his brother’s shirtsleeve. With a small sigh Elrohir carried the vial of clear liquid over to the fire, where he poured it in one of several light traveling bowls that were scattered hodge-podge on the hearth. Moving it onto the metal rack above the flames, the elf left it there with full assurance that the liquid would heat up and fill the room with the fragrance and healing property of the potent herb extract. Removing the full mug from the same rack, he carried it over to where Elladan was sitting on the edge of the bed. His twin received the cup with a smile, and with a wry grin waved the brew in his younger brother’s line of vision. “And we all know what this is, don’t we baby brother?” Estel frowned tiredly: now that he was in bed all his body seemed to want to do was sleep. Already the boy’s eyelids were drooping, and he barely trusted his mouth not to yawn and give away his weariness. He simply nodded morosely and swallowed the hot liquid that his brother poured into his mouth. Once there was nothing inside the cup save the dregs of whatever ‘mystery herbs’ the twins had decided to put in the fluid, the cup was removed and the tired young man turned his head towards the wall housing the window. The curtains were drawn over the glass panes, but Estel fancied he could see the stars even through the material. Elladan followed his gaze, wondering distantly what his foster brother could find so interesting in the pattern of the window hangings. True, it was a nice pattern, but still, nothing that should captivate a young boy’s mind for any period of time. To think of it, it didn’t captivate his mind, and he was far older, though the elf wondered vaguely if men were supposed to become more engrossed by curtains as they matured. Startled back to reality by his twin’s slight throat clearing, Elladan looked down to see that Estel had already fallen asleep. Not able to resist, the elf ruffled his long, dark locks one last time before getting up gingerly off the bed and exiting the room, shutting the door softly behind him.
Chapter Fourteen: Engle the She-Bear
After what seemed to be but a moment, Estel found himself awake, still lying underneath a mass of quilts and blankets. The room was getting a bit stuffy, and the young man’s stomach rolled as an overpowering odor of hot herbs flooded his senses. Trying to determine what had woken him, Estel cracked open one slightly crusty eyelid. Elladan had one knee on the bed and an arm hovering slightly above his youngest brother’s head, poised to gently shake the sick man awake. Estel noticed with a twinge of worry that his elven brother’s face was easily betraying his emotions, and currently there was annoyance and disbelief written all over his face. When he saw that the boy was awake, the elf lowered his hand so that it rested gently on the side of Estel’s head. “Come tithen gwador, we must be going.” He said with a sigh. The young man was now starting to be seriously concerned that something was amiss. “Dan, what is wrong?” He asked hesitantly. His older brother gazed at him with a wistful look in his eyes. “Nothing that could be prevented, Estel.” He said softly. “But now we need to leave this place. You will have to change trousers, but Elrohir has retrieved some from your pack. It took him a while to track down your horse and convince the innkeeper that we were not simply stealing your belongings, but eventually and with the help of the old gatekeeper we were able to bring the bag back and calm poor Sadron down. Elladan made a jerking gesture with his thumb towards the floor by the bed, and Estel slowly sat up and swung his legs over the side of the mattress. Elladan was already on the other side of the room, clearing up the jumble of bowls and mugs that littered the hearth and paying no attention to his little brother. Estel spotted his pack immediately, easily distinguishing it from Elladan’s by the fact that it was much newer and not yet splitting at the seams. Getting up and padding over to where the bag lay, Estel flipped the top up and fished out a new tunic and breeches from the depths of the pack. Slipping them on, the boy realized that his brother was making far too much noise. Glancing over at where Elladan was throwing things violently into a bag with a frown evident on his fair face, Estel couldn’t stand the uncertainty of the whole situation. “Dan?” He asked quietly, not trusting that his voice would hold steady if he pushed it too hard after just waking up. The elf looked up immediately, concern flashing across his features, and he stopped clearing up the mess that had been made of the room. “What is it, Estel, is something the matter?” He asked. “Ǘ-chenion.” Estel whispered. //I do not understand.// Elladan sighed, shaking his head slowly. “Iston.” //I know// He murmured. “Avo ‘osto, Estel.” //Do not worry, Estel.// The young man, however, would not let the subject go as easily as that. “Why are we leaving so soon?” He asked uncertainly. “Have I done something wrong?” At this Elladan caught his lower lip between his teeth and chewed it absently. “Well…” He paused, as if torn between telling his brother what he knew or shielding him from the information. Estel hurriedly sent his elven brother as stun of a look as he could manage, imploring the older being to tell him exactly what was going on and how. Elladan sighed, but seeing the young man’s face knew that he wouldn’t cooperate with anyone or anything until he was filled in on the details of the situation. “We have been asked to leave…” He said, letting his voice trail off. Seeing that Estel obviously didn’t understand, the oldest of Elrond’s sons sat on the far end of the bed from where Estel stood. His youngest brother did the same, and the two faced each other. “Estel, you weren’t with the two edain boys any time today, were you?” At this Estel froze, eyes wide and jaw clenched tightly shut. This was immediately picked up on by Elladan, and the young man watched as his brother’s face paled. “Sweet Eru Estel! Surely you didn’t actually do it! Elrohir and I were so firm in insisting that you had been nowhere near those twins that we were harsh with the housekeeper’s wife! And now it turns out that you did do the deed? Ai! So much for the honor of the sons of Elrond!” With this outburst the elf threw up his hands and jumped off the bed, storming into the adjacent room. Estel could hear him shouting something at his twin, who yelled something indistinguishable back. With a racing heart the boy tried to think of what he could have done that would upset Engle so much that she would ask the brothers to leave. All that his fuzzy mind could remember was his confiscating the knives from the boys, and then slicing his foot open. With that he suddenly remembered his foot, and it seemed that as soon as his thoughts turned to the offending appendage, it began to throb with a renewed vigor. Taking the opportunity to examine the cut while his brothers were both absent, he adjusted his seat on the bed and brought the sole of his foot up so that he could see it. Much to Estel’s dismay, he found that the socks had become quite disturbingly saturated with blood. The young man shook his head in frustration; causing his untidy dark locks to swish around his head. Biting his lip, Estel peeled away the soiled articles of clothing. Leaving the socks halfway on his foot, he gingerly proved the dark, scabbing wound with trepidation. ‘Well, at least it isn’t bleeding any more.’ He thought to himself. Looking around the room, his eyes fell upon his pack, but he quickly dismissed this idea. He hadn’t packed many extra socks for this trip, and they were all dirty. Malicious logic kicked in, and Estel’s gaze fell upon Elladan’s bag. With a slight smile as he pushed himself off the bed, the young edain shuffled over to his elven brother’s pack, and with a sigh he lowered himself into a squatting position. Digging through the canvas bag that seemed to have no end, he finally stopped with a smile as his fingertips brushed his quarry. Holding aloft a pair of his brother’s socks, he inspected them carefully before unrolling them. Estel wanted to be sure that the large socks hadn’t been worn by Elladan this trip: if they had then the stench emanating from the young man’s feet would surely give away the fact that he wasn’t wearing his own socks. Frowning slightly, the boy decided that he had nowhere to hide the bloody socks that were on his feet, so he simply pulled another sock onto both feet overtop the others. Quickly, he pulled on his boots and straightened up. He was just in time, for two rather surly elves entered the room shortly thereafter. Elladan’s face was dark with badly suppressed fury, and the younger twin didn’t look to be much happier. “Ready?” Elrohir asked in an icy tone of voice that suggested that it was really a rhetorical question. Estel nodded slightly anyways, and with that Elladan scooped up his pack and motioned for Estel to follow them. The brothers exited the room, an uncomfortable silence surrounding them. The young man wondered, not for the first time, what on Arda could have made his siblings so mad. Surely something had not happened to the edain twins that he could be blamed for. All he had done was preventing them from being the victims of the famed fury of the peredhil twins. For sure, the two would not have survived the night if Estel’s brothers had discovered them sparring with their own knives. Who would have though that what the man had assumed would be a good deed would turn out to be so… difficult. Estel hardly noticed as they descended the stairs and headed out down the hallway. In a dining room several people looked groggily as they passed, and several waved at the twins. The elves, however, kept their eyes straight ahead as they traveled noiselessly down the hall. When they reached the front door, Estel could have sworn he saw two dark heads withdraw back around a corner, but when he looked a second time they had gone. Shaking his head, Estel followed his brothers out the now-open doors and out onto the street.
Elrohir was mad. Correction: Elrohir was seething. He had been just about asleep, walking the fine line between consciousness and the dream world, when he and his twin had heard loud, thumping footsteps coming down the hallway. ‘Please go past our door, please go past our door, please go past our door…” The younger elf repeated to himself. Of all things on Arda that he wanted to do right now, getting up to answer the door was not one of them. He let out a disgusted snort when the footsteps stopped at their door, and he rolled onto his side so that he could see his brother. Elladan obviously had no plans that included getting up to deal with whoever it was, but the younger twin wasn’t so easily dissuaded. He flashed a smug smile in Elladan’s direction, obviously implying that, as the oldest, he was going to have to get up and deal with their unwelcome visitor. A loud knock reverberated throughout the small room, short taps on the wooden door echoing eerily. ‘He had better hurry up and get that,’ Elrohir thought grumpily. ‘Or it will wake Estel in the next room.’ With a frustrated sigh, Elladan heaved himself off the bed, rubbing his eyes in a most un-elven manner. The older twin shuffled lightly to the door, fiddling with the latch for a moment before turning the knob and pulling the door inwards. Elrohir burrowed back under the bed sheets, silently willing his brother to hurry up so that he could go back to sleep. An angry female voice, distorted by the blankets but nevertheless discernable with elven hearing, came to Elrohir’s attention, and he curiously poked his head back out into the stuffy air of the room. A very disgruntled looking Elladan stood with his back to his twin, his silhouette all that Elrohir could see of him. That was still enough, however, for the younger twin to see that his brother was very angry about something. ‘Surely he is not still mad about me not answering the door, is he?’ Elrohir thought to himself. But when he looked past the dark shadow of the elf to the person that he was talking to, the younger brother saw Engle in her dressing gown, obviously giving Elladan a lecture about something or other. “…Reckless and unprovoked!” She was saying, hands on he hips and a scowl on her face. “The boy had absolutely no reason to attack my sons, and it shall not happen again!” She practically shouted. Elladan’s confused voice piped up. “Surely, good lady, you seriously cannot expect that our brother attacked your sons! He is quite unwell, I can hardly imagine that he could lift a weapon, nonetheless actually assault someone with one!” Engle’s face darkened even more so at these words. “Are you suggesting, Master elf, that my sons’ words are to be doubted? They do not tell untruths, not now and not ever before! If they say that Estel attacked them then by the One they did! And I will hardly harbor someone so violent under my roof. You have an hour to pack your things and leave this house!” And with that she turned on her heels and stormed off, leaving two very confused elves and a looming problem.
Chapter Fifteen: Brotherly Doubt
It was barely dawn: light was only just starting to grace Arda with its warming presence, and birds were just starting to warble out the notes of their first songs of the new day. Yet already a few people in the little town of Sansdale were up and moving about the sleepy little village. Old Sam the gatekeeper was at his post by the door in the palisade, waiting patiently for his breakfast. In the back of his mind he wondered what was taking Engle so long: usually she was prompt, and sometimes she even beat him to his post. His thoughts wandered to the boy that he had sheltered a few nights ago. He knew that he was staying with Engle and her twin terrors at the boarding house, but hadn’t seen the boy since dawn two days ago. Thinking a bit further along the subject, he wondered if in fact it was that… here he struggled for the name for a moment… Estel that was keeping his grandniece from being on time. He snorted in mock indifference, and settled back on the wooden bench where he sat for the most part of the day. The slate-gray sky still spoke of snow, and a chilly nip in the air would have made the old man shiver had he not been bundled up in his coat and cloak. Abruptly he was jerked from his thoughts when the sound of hooves striking the cobblestone street reached his ears. The swift hoof beats sounded to Sam’s well-trained ears as if there were at least two horses, and that they wanted to leave the town as soon as possible. His curiosity ignited, the old man leaned forwards in his seat, straining slightly fuzzy eyes to make out the riders sooner. Eventually three horses appeared: two black steeds and one that was a dapple gray. The black horses were topped by graceful, hooded riders with an excellent saddle seat, but Sam hardly noticed them, his eyes drawn instead to the familiar gray gelding. Perched atop the familiar horse was the little not-so-elven child. He nearly smiled. Now that he saw him alongside two elves (for Engle had filled him in on the race of Estel’s brothers the previous morning) he saw that the similarities were, indeed, astonishing. He waved as the three horses clattered down the lane, then stood up and shuffled to the gate, which he proceeded to unlatch and heave open. As he grappled with the heavy piece of wood, old Sam heard snippets of conversation from the three riders behind him. “…Don’t know what you were thinking…” “But…” “No, I won’t fall for that again…” “…Till Ada hears about this…” Frowning, the old man finally maneuvered the gate wide enough for the horses to ride through. Turning back to the three brothers, Sam noticed how the two identical elves on the black horses were frowning, while Estel looked rather confused. Quickly, however, all three faces were schooled into polite smiles. The elves nodded respectfully as they filed through the gap in the palisade, while the young man gave a brief smile and mouthed a “thank you” to the old gatekeeper. Shaking his head at the retreating backs of the three travelers, Sam heaved the door in the gate shut, wondering just how much less excitement the little town would experience now that they had gone.
“Elladan?” The elf sighed, trying to bite back the frustration that was welling up deep within his chest. He had been trying to ignore his human brother’s sniffles for most of the day now, but every time he looked back the boy’s nose would be running or his eyes would be closed. The dark-haired elf knew that he should be worried about the young man, but at that moment no sympathy was presenting itself. Elladan chewed his lower lip agitatedly. Why did the boy always have to go and get himself into trouble? First a snowstorm, and now this! Shaking his head, Elladan slowly turned his body on the horse’s back so that he was almost facing his little brother. “What is it, Estel?” He asked, trying to keep the iciness that he was feeling towards the young man out of his voice. Apparently it did not work too well, for the raven-haired edain flinched and dropped his gaze to his saddle. Elrohir also turned his head back to look at his twin, giving Elladan a perturbed glance. “N-never mind…” Estel said quietly, the dejected look on his face causing Elladan to feel a pang of guilt. Quickly, however, the elf regained his former state of mind. ‘If he hadn’t assailed those boys back in Sansdale, we would still be back at the boarding house. Then Estel would be resting instead of worsening his illness, we could be stocking up on supplies for the return journey, and none of us would be angered at another!’ He thought with a frustrated air. But the little voice at the back of his head didn’t allow him peace of mind after that thought. Are you sure that Estel is the one responsible? It nagged. How on earth could he have attacked those boys? He is still sick! Elladan snuck another glance at the boy on the horse behind him. Estel was tracing the embroidered pattern on his saddle blanket with a finger, not looking at the path in front of him and blindly trusting his brothers to lead him right. At the sight Elladan almost chuckled, but thought the better of it. ‘That would certainly get their attention.’ He thought. ‘But not necessarily in a good way.’ Now thoroughly irritated, the elf drummed his fingers on his thigh, waiting for nightfall and whatever that might bring.
Elrohir swung off of his horse almost lazily, breathing in the deep, pine-laden scent of the small clearing that they had halted in. The sun was dipping under the trees, and about time, in the elf’s opinion. Their ride that day had been anything but enjoyable: while usually the brothers bantered and laughed their way through a journey, there was only silence the whole day. When one of the three did break the eerie quiet, they had, without fail, ended up getting snapped at by one or both of the others. ‘We really need to do something about this.’ Elrohir thought with a glance at his twin. Elladan, for his part, had been scowling for almost their entire ride. The dark-haired elf could almost sympathize with his identical brother: Estel’s actions were certainly regrettable. But still, Elladan could at least have made an effort to be civil towards the young man. It was quite obvious that Estel wasn’t feeling well at all. Elrohir’s eyes swept over his younger brother, quickly ascertaining whether he had improved any during the day. Regrettably, it was not so, and now the elf slapped his horse’s flank appreciatively before moving over to the man’s side. “Here, Estel let me check your breathing.” He murmured, lifting the back of his tunic and pressing a hand between the boy’s shoulder blades before his brother could protest. Closing his eyes, he allowed himself to adjust his breathing to the rhythm of Estel’s breaths. Still with shut eyes, Elrohir frowned deeply. His body was telling him that he wasn’t getting enough oxygen as he was used to when he breathed as Estel was doing. The pauses between breaths were far too lengthy for the young boy to possibly be comfortable. Sighing, he slid his hand out from beneath his brother’s shirt, placing it instead on his shoulder and bending over so that his face was close to Estel’s left ear. “Why did you not tell us that you weren’t feeling well?” He asked, squeezing the boy’s shoulder reassuringly. “We would have stopped. Now I’m afraid we have waited too long.” Estel shook his head slowly. “I…” He paused, looking slightly guilty. “I tried.” He whispered, for Elrohir’s ears only. The elf grimaced as if he had been physically struck. Now that his thoughts dwelt on the subject, he realized that Estel had indeed tried to speak to the angry twins several times, only to be silenced by a cold stare or sarcastic remark. Elrohir’s heart ached at the thought of how betrayed his younger sibling must be feeling. ‘Almost as betrayed as we felt when he admitted to attacking the twins.” He thought, the scowl flickering back over to cover his features. He still couldn’t get over the fact that Estel had blatantly disobeyed every moral code and rule that their father had laid down for them and had assaulted the boys. Doubt gently tickled the back of his mind, telling the elf that the Estel that he knew and loved wouldn’t do such a thing, but it was quickly silenced by the louder voice telling him that Estel had, indeed, confessed to the act. ‘But did he actually ever admit to having done it?’ He asked himself. Shaking his head in frustration, Elrohir turned his attention back to his younger brother. He patted his shoulder in a half-hearted, encouraging sort of way before moving over to where Elladan was removing their packs from the horses’ backs. He easily located Estel’s bag, and set it to the side, along with the young man’s bedroll. Elrohir motioned to his twin to start a fire, and then went to work on laying out his edain brother’s sleeping roll. “Come here, Estel.” He said softly, beckoning to his brother with a free hand. Shuffling footsteps were heard on the dry ground, and then Estel was beside him, uncertainty etched deep into his young face. ‘Why does he worry so?’ Thought Elrohir. ‘He shouldn’t have to be bothered about anything! Velars, he’s but a child!’ The elf kept his stern façade, however, and was careful not to let any harsh emotions show on his face. “Lie down, tithen gwador.” He said in a soothing voice. “I will help you to sleep.” As Estel settled himself on his stomach, Elrohir rubbed his back calmingly; humming a soft melody from his own childhood days while the future king of men fell asleep under his gaze.
Chapter Sixteen: Worthless Filler Shmegma
Elladan rolled over in his bedroll. ‘How is it that I somehow manage to pick the one spot where the sun shines directly into my eyes early in the morning?” He thought to himself, trying unsuccessfully to open sticky eyes. His acute hearing picked up the sounds of someone with a high, squeaky voice chuckling, but immediately dismissed it as his brother’s insanity rearing its ugly head. With a sigh he untangled his arms from his blankets, lifted his hands to his face, and manually pried his eyelids the rest of the way open. When he could finally see, he kicked off the rest of the bedroll and sat up, taking in the camp that they had pitched last night. Elrohir, who had taken the second watch, was laughing at someone. It took Elladan’s slightly sleep-clouded mind a moment to realize that his twin was most likely laughing at his sluggish attempts to wake up. Right then however, the elf didn’t really care. He clambered to his feet and surveyed the small camp. The horses were standing close bye, Estel’s tack on the ground next to them. The sight of the worn leather brought Elladan’s attention back to the sleeping form of his brother. The child looked as if he’d had a rough night: his face was too pale and his breath still rattled ominously in his chest. The elf began to feel quite guilty indeed. ‘Elladan, what have you done now? You knew that we shouldn’t have ridden so hard yesterday, but you just had to continue on until nightfall! You know that he’s not an elf, so why do you push him as if he has the stamina and resilience to illness of one of the eldar?’ He glanced over to his twin, asking with his eyes whether the boy had been like this all night. A quick, pained nod was the only answer that he received from Elrohir before the other elf turned back to the fire he was rekindling. Blame washed over him in waves, and Elladan simply stood there, watching his brothers while he mentally berated himself. ‘You are the oldest,’ he told himself, ‘the one who is responsible for their safety. They trusted you, and what did you do? You let them down!’ Abruptly, however, his mental tirade ceased as Estel opened bleary eyes. The young man sat up in his bedroll, and Elladan immediately moved to be with the sick child. Elrohir, though, was closer and inevitably reached his little brother’s side before the older elf had taken more than a few strides in their direction. The elder twin sighed and stood a few feet away while his brother comforted Estel. “Dan? The boy asked sleepily, looking up at his brother’s fuzzy face. At this, both of the elves gave each other scared looks. Estel had been able to tell them apart from almost the day that he had arrived at Rivendell. Elrohir surmised that the boy must be very sick indeed if he was confusing the two elves. “No Estel, it’s me, Elrohir.” He said in a soft voice. Estel nodded sleepily, obviously not really comprehending what his older brother was saying. Elrohir frowned slightly, but tried to keep his voice light. “Estel, can you tell me if you hurt anywhere?” He asked. The boy took a deep breath, and then chewed his lip for a moment before waving his hand vaguely in the direction of his chest. “Does it pain you when you breathe, tithen pen?” //little one. // The boy’s dark head bobbed up and down briefly, and Elladan moved over to crouch beside his twin. Knowing that their younger brother spoke but a few words of Westron, the eldest of the group spoke to his brother in that language. “What do you think he has?” The elf asked with a frown. “I’m at a loss for exactly what is wrong with him, but whatever it is was probably caused by his riding through that storm and all day yest…” Here he trailed off, looking at the ground guiltily. Elladan winced and skirted around the statement. “Do you think that we should move him?” He asked, glancing at the bleary fifteen-year-old, who was still sitting up in his bedroll. Elrohir looked uncertain and fiddled with one of his braids for a moment or two before answering. “Staying here surely cannot help him. It might be best to continue on to Rivendell. Then we can all sleep in our own beds.” The last part was a sorry attempt to add a bit of humor to the situation, but all that it managed to do was stretch out an awkward, guilty silence that seemed to permeate the very essence of the quiet clearing. Elladan sighed wearily. “Let us return to Rivendell then. Ada will help.” Elrohir nodded to this, and the twins set out to break camp. The younger elf sat down on the ground and dragged his pack over to his position. Searching through it, he frowned, jingled the bag, and rummaged through the canvas pack some more. Elladan paused in rolling up his bedroll and grinned. “So what is this latest victim that has fallen prey to the impenetrable depths of the Peredhil pack?” He asked with a small smirk. Elrohir only rolled silver eyes and ignored his brother’s remark. “Socks.” He stated shortly. “I could have sworn that I had packed an extra pair.” Elladan clucked disapprovingly. As he tied off the cord that was keeping his bedroll rolled, he made his way over to his own bag. “Well, since neither Estel nor I have any desire to travel with you when you haven’t changed your socks, you can borrow a pair of mine.” The elf said rather smugly. Elrohir muttered something under his breath, causing his twin to chuckle. A moment or two later, however, and the eldest brother was no longer smiling. “I know that I had more than two pairs on this trip: after that incident with Glorfindel I always pack extras.” A collective shudder went up from the twins as they recalled that particular event, but they both were soon distracted by Estel muttering something. “What was that, little brother?” Elrohir asked, masking his concern with a cheery voice. “I said that I am not deaf, and can still hear you!” The young man stated grumpily. At this both of the elven twins looked rather sheepish, and Elladan scuffed his bare toe in the dirt. “Well, yes, we shall be going now Estel…” He countered lamely. “Rivendell shouldn’t be more than a few hours down the road now.” Estel nodded sleepily and began to untangle his limbs from his bedroll. The brothers (with Estel doing more bleary blinking than working) quickly took down the rest of their camp and were mounted. A rather grouchy young man rode in front of Elrohir as the three set out, and soon the Peredhil children were back on the road, heading towards home, warm beds, and a lecture to last a lifetime.
Chapter Seventeen: Glorfindel and Gardens
Elrond, lord of Imaldris, bearer of one of the three elven rings and enemy to all evil was bored. As much as the elf hated to admit the fact: life in Rivendell was rather dull without his children. Yes, he was worried about them, but seeing as there was absolutely nothing that he could possibly do about anything, he settled on being bored. Elrond had already rejected three books, a heap of political documents and a walk in the gardens as unsuitable pastimes, and was just contemplating bothering Glorfindel when said advisor appeared in his library. The blonde elf popped his head around one of the bookshelves, somehow managing to make himself look both juvenile and extremely condescending at the same time. Elrond almost snorted: only Glorfindel could possibly pull that off. Fortunately the elf lord contained any noise of frustration that he would have made and simply nodded at his advisor and close friend. “Good evening, Glorfindel.” He said distractedly, absently running a finger over the inlaid wood designs on his desktop. The blonde elf stepped the rest of the way around the shelf before speaking. “Fretting again? Don’t worry, the twins will doubtlessly find his and drag the boy home.” With a satisfied smirk Glorfindel waited a moment for Elrond to answer before deciding that his friend was not listening. “So… I have money against Erestor that it will be Elrohir that collapses on the threshold of Imaldris this time, though the daft elf is still holding out that it will be Elladan. Would you care to place a wager?” Elrond nodded absently, obviously very intent on the pattern of swirling leaves on his stationary. With a malicious smile the blonde elf whipped out a small sheet of parchment from one of the inside pockets of his robe. Studying the numerals and names on it briefly, he once again addressed the elf lord. “Well, the majority is in favor of your eldest, but you’d have very good odds if you chose either Estel or Sadron. If I were you I would go for the horse: no doubt the least anticipated is most likely that which should be expected.” Glorfindel put on a sage face, nodding twice more for emphasis. “Whatever you think would be best, my friend.” Elrond said blandly. “Ah!” Said the blonde elf with a smirk. “Sadron it is! I knew you would trust my judgment. I shall put you down for… let’s say a week of kitchen duty should your bet not hold true?” At Elrond’s nondescript nod Glorfindel allowed himself the briefest of smiles. “Well then, sign and date here, my old friend.” He said, presenting the document with a flourish. Hardly glancing at the parchment, Elrond picked up a quill and scrawled his signature at the place where Glorfindel pointed. “Very good, now that we’ve gotten business out of the way, what do you say we go for a walk in the gardens? Get you out of this stuffy room.” Lord Elrond once again nodded, but made no move to stand. Glorfindel rolled his eyes. “Up”! He said sternly, mustering all the vocal powers that he could manage. This seemed to catch the elf’s attention, and he almost immediately snapped out of his stupor. “What were you saying, Glorfindel?” he asked with a slight frown. “I suggested that we go for a walk in one of the gardens. You have been sitting inside for hours.” Elrond nodded, stood up, and moved around the desk. Side by side, the two old friends walked towards the direction of one of the side doors.
The two elf-lords sat on a stone bench in a garden, separated from the path leading to Rivendell’s front gates by a tall hedge. Their conversation ceased as hoof beats were heard along the road, slowing down as they neared the gates. Instead of passing through the iron structures and past the guards, however, the horses stopped where Elrond estimated would be just out of sight of the main house. The dark-haired elf shot a questioning look at Glorfindel, who just shook his head and put a finger to his lips. Elrond smiled and waited for something to happen on the other side of the bushes. Surely enough, mortal voices soon reached the ears of the two elves. “Tann, are you sure we have to do this?” Asked a male voice. “Yes, can we not just turn around and tell mother that we made our amends? She would never know the difference!” At this Glorfindel looked confused. The second voice had seemed to belong to the same person as the first. Elrond, however, just smiled. He held up two fingers, then put on a cheeky grin and pretended to lean back to back with someone else. The blonde elf nodded: that was a position that the twins took when trying to show off for the elf-maidens. Elrond had obviously recognized the fact that the two voices were twins. The people on the other side of the hedge, however, kept on talking. “…Course she would know, I would tell her! Your mother put me in charge of you young rascals, and I am to take you to Rivendell and personally make sure that you have apologized to them. I do not care how many times you threaten, manipulate, or plead with me: you are going in there!” The two elven lords looked at each other for a moment before shrugging and getting up from the bench. The people on the other side of the bush kept arguing, and Elrond decided to make a particularly ingenious entrance. Moving to a small iron gate a while towards the house, he pushed it open as silently as was possible, then stepped through. Glorfindel smiled broadly as he followed the younger elf through. Though he could see the logic behind Elrond’s plan (if the twins won the argument the elves might never know what they were up to) the blonde elf clearly appreciated it more for the effect that they would make upon their visitors. The gate leading back up into the garden was pushed closed silently, and the two elf lords proceeded to sneak up upon their prey like wolves stalking their next meal. When they were a mere few feet in front of the three horses, they stepped out of the shadow created by the hedge and into the path. The men, obviously too engrossed in their bickering to be paying much attention to minute details, simultaneously jumped in surprise. Not allowing himself the smug grin that threatened to creep up onto his face, Elrond swept out his hand in a polite greeting to the newcomers. “Welcome to Rivendell!” He called in a booming voice, trying to ignore Glorfindel’s muffled snickers behind him. “I am Lord Elrond, master of this house. Will you not enter? It is surely more comfortable inside than it is standing outside in the cold.” The three men nodded mutely, and Elrond took the opportunity to study each of them carefully. The obvious eye-drawers were the identical boys to his left. They were both brunette with fair skin and brown eyes. The other man was a blonde with blue eyes that didn’t look more than five years older than the other boys. It was the oldest who took the lead. “Our thanks, Lord Elrond. We would much appreciate it if we could come inside. These young men have something to discuss with your sons.” At this Elrond pursed his lips and Glorfindel downright frowned. “Of course.” He said with a strained smile. “Please, I am sure we have much to talk about.”
Chapter Eighteen: Revelations
Estel sat atop his own horse again, having recently been perched there by his elven brother. A little way outside of Imaldris’ gates the trio had stopped and a hurried conversation had taken place. “I do not want to find out what Ada will do if we ride in with Estel in front of me!” Elrohir had exclaimed in hushed tones. “It is bad enough when it’s you that is injured, but if it is Estel he will most likely explode before we even have the chance to explain.” Elladan nodded in agreement, though he had secret doubts that Estel could stay in the saddle unaided for that long. The young man, however, was soon perched atop Sadron once more, and flanked by his brothers he rode through the gates of Rivendell. When they stopped, Estel swayed slightly and was almost carried forward onto his horse’s neck by the sudden stop. Elladan and Elrohir, however, surveyed the stable yard with practiced eyes, keeping a lookout for their father or an advisor that might give them away. Seeing no one but hurrying household staff, the elves dismounted and then pulled their brother gently off of his horse. Slapping the three mounts on their hindquarters in turn, the brothers headed inside knowing that the horses would return to their stalls, where a stable-hand would look after the faithful animals. After walking a few steps, Elladan realized that Estel was not going to be able to walk into the house under his own power. The young man had grown steadily weaker throughout the day and leaning back against Elrohir as they rode towards home. Now the boy was far too pale, and he obviously was having difficulties putting one foot in front of the other. Sighing quietly, the elf let he fall a step behind Estel, motioning for his twin to do the same. Without a word they each put a hand on the other’s shoulder, then clasped their other hands lower. Walking sideways, they caught up to Estel from behind and swept his feet out from under him with their joined hands, catching him with their combined arms and lifting him up off the ground with the whole chair-like contraption. To Elrohir’s alarm, the boy didn’t even protest as he was carried down the maze of hallways and to his room. When they reached the boy’s door, however, they ran into a problem. The solid wooden door was shut tightly, and neither of the elves had a hand free to turn the knob with. Elladan made a feeble attempt to open it with a foot, but had to stop before getting his high lest he jostle Estel with his leg. One look at the boy’s pale face was enough to make the elven twins very hesitant to jostle him at all. “Should we switch him to me so that you can open it?” Asked Elrohir with a hint of frustration. Elladan understood, however, that the anger was directed at the door and not at himself or their younger brother. “No.” He said shortly. Elrohir nodded, and they stood there for a moment, contemplating how to overcome this newest foe. After a bit, however, their ears picked up on a conversation coming from their father’s study, which was around the corner. As soon as he recognized his father as one of the speakers, Elladan let out a holler. “ADA!” He called. “Will you come help us with Estel please?” Elrohir winced, and Estel shifted uneasily at his loud shout. The voices abruptly halted, and there was a moment or two of silence before the twins heard the study door open. Their father, looking fairly worried, came bustling down the hallway. “What is it bo…” He trailed off, seeing the limp figure in the twins’ arms. “Estel!” He exclaimed, rushing over to his sons and taking the young man’s face in his hands. “Ada, the door?” Elladan asked impatiently. Elrond shook his head. “No, take him into my study. That way he will be closer to my room and the healing halls.” The two looked puzzled, yet nodded and began to carry the young man down the hall and towards their father’s chambers. At the door, however, they froze, jerking Estel slightly. He moaned and Elrond frowned, impatient. “Boys, now!” He said anxiously. The elven twins blushed as they brushed past the dark-haired young men that had been watching from the doorway. “Excuse us.” Elladan mumbled, knowing that their father would never let them live down any disrespect shown to guests. Even if the brothers were horribly ashamed at their younger brother’s actions towards these twins, Elladan and Elrohir still couldn’t see just why it was necessary for them to come and report to their ada. Shaking his head, Elrohir lightly lay Estel’s head down on an empty couch, brushing a few decorative pillows out of the way as he went. Elrohir arranged his feet on the sofa, and Elrond ducked into his washroom to fill a basin with water. These arrangements left Elladan and Elrohir alone with their three mortal visitors. As Elladan knelt by his their semi-lucid foster brother, Elrohir straightened and gave the two identical young men his version of the look: an unblinking and rock-hard glare that he learned from Glorfindel. With his eyes he demanded to know why on earth they had come to his home. But neither of the two would meet his eyes: they became all too engrossed in the rug that was spread across the floor. At that time, however, Elrond chose to re-appear in the room, breaking his son’s death glare as he sat lightly on the couch next to Estel’s head. The young man was still awake, but squinted as if the light hurt his glazed and feverish eyes. “Elrohir, would you dim the room a bit?” Asked the elf lord with concern written all over his face. Elrohir nodded, strode to the far end of the study, and snuffed out a few of the candles on their decorative holders with his bare fingers. The men watched with interest, and the elf could feel their eyes boring into his back as he repeated the process with a few of the other lights in the room. As he worked he could hear Elrond questioning Estel and his twin, and Elrohir could tell that the men were obviously waiting quite impatiently to say whatever it was they had come for. The elf turned back to his father and brother to find that they had settled themselves in armchairs and were obviously waiting for him to do the same. He moved over to his twin’s right and sat, keeping silent until his father decided to speak. Throwing a quick look over his shoulder, Elrohir could see that Estel was half-sitting, propped up by the discarded pillows and looking very weak. At that time Elrond chose to speak. “Boys, these are Garren and Gareth, whom I believe you already know, and their supervisor, Reland.” The three nodded nervously to the elves, and Elrond continued. “I believe they have something to say.” With that the twin boys shifted and fidgeted, and Reland sat back in his seat. Finally one of them seemed to pluck up the courage. “We just wanted to say that we’re very sorry for getting you kicked out.” He said, not looking at the family. “We just knew that we were going to get in trouble… so we… made up a story.” The other boy nodded, but the elven twins had confused looks on their faces. “But what would you be in trouble for?” Elladan asked with a frown. “Playing around with the knives.” One of the two answered. “They were just so… different than we’re used to seeing.” Gareth explained. “We were only sparring, not really fighting. But we figured that he would tell you, so we told mother that he attacked us.” Garren finished quietly. “It seemed like a good plan, because you would be gone before he got a chance to say anything to mother.” At this Elrohir shook his head. “Who? You mean Estel saw you?” He looked curiously over at his younger brother, who was looking at his hands as if there were suddenly three of them. He didn’t miss the identical nods that the twin men gave him, however. “He came in while we were fighting.” Gareth said sadly. “And asked for the knives. But when he stepped on one of them we ran out. We waited until after everyone was in bed to tell mother that he attacked us.” The two hung their head in shame under the wilting glares of the elf lords and his twin sons. Elladan suddenly seemed to remember something. “You said he stepped on a knife?” He exclaimed loudly. At the two quick nods to the affirmative he spun and faced his brother. “Estel! You didn’t tell us! What got into you? You didn’t tell us that they were playing with our weapons, you didn’t tell us that you cut your foot, and you didn’t tell us that they were spreading lies about you!” What more is there that we don’t know? He practically yelled. Estel seemed to shrink into the sofa with every word from his brother’s mouth, but Elrohir was quickly at his side. “Feet.” He demanded, and the young man reluctantly swung his legs over to where his brother could reach them. Elrohir pulled off both boots, and was about to ask which foot was cut when he realized that the question was unnecessary. One of the boy’s socks had a dull crimson stain on the bottom. Sighing in frustration, the elf pulled off the sock, only to be faced by another. The process was repeated three times before Elrohir finally found Estel’s foot. By this time the other two elves were snickering softly. “So that is where our socks have gone!” Exclaimed Elladan. Their laughter was quickly quenched, however, when Elrohir turned up Estel’s foot to find a gruesome gash running almost the entire length of the bottom of the boy’s foot. Elrond winced, as did many of the room’s other occupants. The cut was a dark, crusted purple color, and the area around it was inflamed. Sighing softly, Elrohir maneuvered his brother’s foot so that it was propped up on a pillow before leaving the room to fetch a bandage. Elrond decided that there had been more than enough excitement for one night, and quietly dismissed the guests to the rooms that had been given to them earlier in the day. The story had not come as a shock for him, having heard the men’s side of the story before his sons had returned. The only explanation that he could come up with for the three reaching Rivendell before his sons had been that the twins had been greatly slowed by the ill Estel. Shaking his head, the elf sat beside where Estel lay on the couch. “Oh Estel, why does evil find its way to the most innocent of us all?” He asked quietly. Sighing, he waited for his son to return, realizing that it was going to be a long night.
Chapter Nineteen: Bed Rest and Wagers
Estel woke up slowly, his ears telling him that it was late evening. Crickets were buzzing outside the open window, and the fifteen-year-old could feel a cool draft coming from the outside. His bed, however, was warm and soft, and even though the boy could tell that it was not his own, that didn’t stop him from wanting to stay in it for as long as physically possible. He laid back with closed eyes, enjoying the peace of having no brothers, fathers, or anyone else remotely worried about him staying in bed. It took him a moment before his conscious mind digested what he had just realized. No one around? Silver eyes flew wide open, and though Estel noted that his vision was no longer blurry, he didn’t pause to contemplate this welcome discovery. Instead he swung his legs wearily over the side of the bed, scooting himself along on his back so that he slithered off the mattress and onto the floor. Estel paused for a moment to ascertain his strength and found it unsatisfactory: nowhere near to where it was when he was in full health. However, the boy knew that if he wanted to make a break for his own room and the books that he had stashed under his bed there would be no better opportunity than now. Usually when he was sick he was well guarded by one of his family members until he recovered fully. But now there was no sign of the elven lord or his sons, and the young man was fully prepared to pounce upon the opportunity that presented itself. He slowly rose to his feet and took a tentative step before instantly yanking his foot back up again. Frowning, he found that the entirety of his right foot was swathed in white bandages. ‘Trust Ada to play up a little cut.’ He thought to himself as he started on his trek across the room. He made a thumping noise every other step, and figured that someone had put a piece of something solid in the midst of the mountain of bandages, perhaps to protect it even further. He got to the door and paused, poking his head warily out of the open doorway. The hall was reassuringly devoid of life, and Estel worked up the confidence to step out. He waited for a moment, half-expecting someone to leap out of the woodworks of the house and wrestle him back into bed. But no one made their presence know, and the young man sighed in relief. He put his weight on his right foot, stepped with his left, and found himself face to face with a very irritated elf maiden. Light brown hair hung down her back in a neat braid, and blue eyes narrowed in annoyance. Estel sighed as he recognized one of his father’s junior healers. “Estel Elrondion!” She exclaimed, waving her hands about for emphasis. “Just what do you think you are doing out of that bed? You can’t be left alone for a moment without attempting to escape!” Her rampage continued, and Estel reluctantly allowed himself to be herded back into the room. The maiden shut the open window with a snap, tugged on the bedclothes until they lay semi-straight, and made shooing motions with her hands. “But Elinae!” He protested weakly. He was stopped from any further speech, however, when the irritated elf grabbed him under the arms, lifted him up off the floor, and deposited him on the bed. Estel squeaked at the undignified treatment, but grudgingly held still as Elinae pulled the covers over him and tucked the edges under the mattress. “Now listen carefully little master.” She berated him with hands on hips. “Your father and brother are seeing the guests off, and you will not move one muscle until they return and I am no longer responsible for keeping you in bed! Do you understand me?” The boy nodded reluctantly, and the healer settled down in a chair by the window. He found it hard to get any sleep when he knew that she was scrutinizing him, but he feigned ignorance and turned over. Estel steadied his breathing and lay still, hoping that she would eventually leave. After what seemed like an eternity, light footsteps were heard in the hallway and Elinae tiptoed her way out the door. When the wooden panel shut behind the elf, the young boy could hear his father’s voice along with that of the younger healer. “Any change?” The elf lord asked, concern evident in his voice. “Well, he has woken, her nin.” The she-elf could be heard saying. “And I am under the distinct impression that he is practically back to normal.” Estel chuckled: he could almost hear Lord Elrond’s look of confusion. “Aye, he has already tried to escape once.” The maiden confirmed. A light chuckle found its way to Estel’s ears, and the door to his room opened up the slightest crack. His father’s face appeared in the slight opening, and though he no longer looked as stressed as he had last time the young man had seen him, the elf still had a worry-crease between his eyes. Estel consciously altered his breathing once more to match that of his usual sleeping breaths. The elf-lord looked on for a moment before sighing and closing the door softly. He talked to Elinae in hushed tones for a moment, and then all was quiet for a short while. Estel unconsciously lulled himself so sleep, and didn’t even notice when the healer slipped back into his room a while later with his books. The reading material was left on his bedside table within arm’s reach, and the elf smiled and smoothed the boy’s curls before leaving once more.
Elladan stormed his way inside the house, letting the great oaken door slam behind him. He had had to stand politely and watch the lying imbeciles ride off, smiling and waving like the courteous son of the house that he was. Elrohir was tense beside him, and he knew that his brother was as unhappy as he was. But deep down Elladan couldn’t bring it upon himself to parcel off all the blame on others, even the infuriating twin boys. Granted, the two were certainly not innocent. But, as much as the oldest twin hated to admit it, much of the fault of this incident lay on his brother and himself. He sighed in frustration as he thumped down the hallway, normally silent footsteps echoing loudly on the floor. He heard the front door open again and his father’s stern voice called out to him. “Elladan! My study! Now!” The elf lord’s tone was so stern that his eldest son flinched and turned slowly around, only to find that his father was no longer there. A meek looking Elrohir peeked in from behind the door, looking both ways before squeezing into the hall. “Ada’s furious.” He stated calmly. Elladan winced as he walked back to join his brother. “At us?” He asked quietly, pausing a moment while his brother eased the large door back shut. “Too soon to tell, if you ask me.” The younger twin said flatly. “But all signs point to a major lecture, at the very least.” Here he abruptly stopped walking and faced his twin. “But I really can’t say that I blame him. I feel so horrible, all Ada really needs to do is stand there and listen to me berating myself!” Elladan nodded in sympathy, and the elves made the rest of the short journey to their father’s study in silence, completely lost in his their own thoughts. When they reached the room, however, Elrond was not there. They seated themselves and waited for several long, agonizing minutes before the door opened once more and their father swept into the room. At first the elf simply stood there and looked at his twin sons, not saying anything and letting them see just how displeased he was with them. Finally he sighed and walked around to the far side of his desk. He poured himself a glass of water, offering the pitcher to both of his sons who refused it in turn. After another long wait he finally spoke. “I think that both of you know how much I am disappointed in you.” He said in a quiet, even voice. “I understand that you were lied to, but you should have at least listened to your brother when he told you that he didn’t commit the offense!” At these words Elladan visibly paled, and Elrohir bit his tongue so hard that he made a small “oomph” of pain. Elrond scowled deeply and sat up in his chair, obviously waiting for one of his sons to speak. “I’m afraid… well, I’m afraid that Estel never had the chance to defend himself, Ada.” Elladan stated softly, eyes on his boots. “I don’t even remember telling him what he was accused of.” He sighed. Elrond, however, stood up suddenly, pushing his chair back so hard that it made a screeching noise as it grated across the floor. “You mean to tell me that you dragged Estel home with a bad cold, high fever, in the snow, and giving him the cold shoulder without even telling your brother what you were blaming him for?” He exclaimed, voice rising slightly with each word he uttered. “And to top it all off you yelled at him last night for not telling you?” The enraged elf’s voice echoed in the small room, and as he was winding up for another furious statement, the door to the room opened. Glorfinel entered the study with an air of authority about him. “Boys,” he said quietly to the twins. “Why don’t you leave now? I’m sure that your father will have a discussion with you later once he has calmed down.” The elven brothers jumped up and hurried out of the room, closing the door softly behind them. Elrond, for his part, glared at his blonde advisor with all the malice he could muster up. “What was that for?” He demanded, trying desperately to salvage what was left of his calm façade. “That,” said the blonde elf, “was because you had completely lost your temper and were about to explode on the twins. I didn’t want you doing anything now that you might regret later.” He explained calmly. “I doubt I would have regretted anything that I would have done to them right about now.” Muttered Elrond, grudgingly accepting Glorfindel’s logic. The older elf smiled and walked around the desk so that he stood beside Elrond, who stood up to be on the same level as his friend. “Now, wait a while before talking to the twins. By then they will have beaten themselves up sufficiently and saved you the effort. Yes,” he smiled, seeing the slightly shocked look on Elrond’s face, “don’t think that they aren’t feeling guilty enough as it is. You surely will not help that any.” Elrond sighed, and then nodded, efficiently closing the matter. “Now,” continued the blonde elf, “we have another small matter to discuss.” He smiled broadly, striking fear into the dark-haired elf’s heart. “The small matter of a wager that you placed yesterday must be settled now that your sons are home.” Elrond sputtered like a boiling kettle. “Wager?” He exclaimed. “I do not make bets, especially, as you are implying, on my own sons!” Glorfindel’s smile grew broader, if that were possible. “Ah, but I have it in writing here,” he drew out a yellowed sheet of parchment, ” that you bet on Estel’s horse being the first to collapse once the group reached Rivendell!” At this Elrond paled visibly and grabbed the sheet from his friend’s hand. “I never!” He exclaimed, but soon quieted when he saw his own signature and date next to the wager. “Wha…. How on Arda did you get me to sign this?” He shouted. The grin on Glorfindel’s face did not once flicker, and he simply jabbed a finger at the parchment. “And that isn’t the best of it, either!” He stated. “Read on and see what the stakes were!” Elrond’s eyes practically bugged out of his head when he saw Glorfindel’s neat script. “A week’s kitchen duty?” He exclaimed. At that he turned on his heel and stormed out of the room, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “Don’t worry!” Glorfindel called after him. “You won’t be the only one there, Figwitt can keep you company!” And the blonde elf burst into laughter that echoed throughout the Last Homely House, assuaging the tension of those who dwelt there and easing the minds of the inhabitants.
Chapter Twenty: Epilogue
The door to the dark healing room eased open gently, and a pale, slender hand gripped the doorframe. A dark head popped quickly in and out of view, and then there was a short pause before the lean body of an elf entered the room, followed quickly by another. Having quickly ascertained that neither their father, Glorfindel, nor one of the healers was lurking anywhere in the room, the identical elves seated themselves on opposite sides of the bed, careful not to jostle its occupant. Elrohir gazed sadly down on the still form of his younger brother, guilt eating at him for allowing himself to contribute to Estel’s condition. ‘If only we hadn’t ridden so hard,’ he berated himself, ‘then maybe he would have recovered even while riding. He certainly wouldn’t be so bad now!’ He stole a quick glance at his twin and saw the same thoughts running across Elladan’s face. With a small sigh, he reached across the bed and poked the other elf in the shoulder. This incited Elladan’s wrath, and the younger twin received a small shove in return. This “poke-fight” ended with both elves kneeling fully on Estel’s bed, shoving each other in a friendly fashion while completely oblivious to the fact that the boy whose bed they had commandeered was now quite awake and trying very hard not to laugh out loud. After a particularly hard pinch by Elladan, Estel’s restraint broke and he began calling out advice to the warring twins. “No, no! In the stomach ‘Ro!” He said with a grin. Elrohir unconsciously followed his advice, quite used to Estel helping in some of the affectionate battles. Elladan, however, noticed abruptly that his youngest brother was awake, and bent down closer to the boy, partially shielding him with his back and arms. Not a moment too soon, for with the shudder that Elladan’s movement wrought in the mattress, Elrohir lost his balance and toppled forward, arms windmilling frantically as he tried to regain an upright position. His dark head connected with Elladan’s with a loud thunk, rendering both twins senseless. Elrohir rolled off the bed, and the older twin collapsed hard onto Estel. The air left the young man’s lungs with a muffled “oomph,” and he panicked, not being able to breathe. Finding his arms pinned underneath the stunned elf, Estel wriggled as he attempted to ease the pressure off of his chest and throat. Fortunately, just as the boy was beginning to see yellow spots dance across his vision, Elrohir pulled himself up off the floor, grinning wildly at the latest stunt he had pulled. “Well, I’ll sure have a nasty bump on my head, eh Es…” The elf froze mid-sentence as he saw his younger brother’s fluttering eyes and bluish lips and eyelids. “Estel!” He cried, leaping onto the bed and pulled his twin off of the boy. Elladan, dragged back to his senses by the rough handling, sat straight up when he saw his twin sitting a gasping Estel up and murmuring to him in the gray tongue. “Elrohir! What on Arda happened?” He asked as he crawled to the edain’s other side and placed an arm around his shoulders. Elrohir looked downright stricken, and once Estel had his breath back both elves apologized profusely. Estel merely waved them off, smiling. “Can’t you two find anything better to do than injuring me?” He teased. The twins, however, turned guiltily away, trying not to look each other in the eye. “Oh, no you don’t! I was only teasing you! Seriously,” he said without a trace of mirth in his voice, “it was really my fault, all of this, so you just forget about it, alright?” The twins, though they knew the untruth of this, glanced at each other with a smile. An unspoken agreement passed between them, and both vowed that though they wouldn’t speak of it again to the stubborn boy, they would not let anything like this happen again. “Alright, little brother, we’ll let you off the hook this time, but no more, clear?” Elladan asked with a smile that showed that his words were in jest. Elrohir still looked worried about the head-banging incident of just a minute before, and turned to his twin. “Are you sure we shouldn’t get Ada to make sure he’s all right?” He asked with a small frown. Elladan couldn’t help but laugh at Estel’s growl of protest, and another chuckle was heard from the doorway. The brothers looked up to see a grinning Glorfindel leaning against the frame. “Oh, I don’t think your father would be able to come, young ones.” He smiled and continued on despite three exclamations of objection. “He’s quite busy in the kitchens right now. I’m afraid Lord Elrond will find his time much more occupied during the next week, perhaps you should consider keeping yourselves out of harm’s way for a while.” And with a superior grin he stalked off, leaving the three alone in the room once more. The brothers smiled as one. “Ada’s busy…” Stated Estel slowly. “For a whole week!” Added Elladan in obvious delight. “Just imagine the possibilities…” Put in Elrohir with a wicked grin. The three looked at each other and grinned. ‘Yes,’ thought Elrohir, “Rivendell is most certainly back to normal.’ And with that the sons of Elrond were once again in their natural state: plotting the demise of innocent elves.