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Never Alone

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-Never Alone-

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~*PART ONE*~

 

“Estel? Estel can you hear me? Look at me Estel,” Elrond’s voice was both worried and commanding, but the thirteen-year-old in his arms did not respond. The young human’s eyes were half-lidded and glazed as he leaned limply against his elven father’s chest.

“By the Valar what did they *do* to you Estel?” Elladan murmured in furious anguish as he pressed folded cloths against the freely bleeding gash that sliced the youngster’s thigh raggedly. Estel was losing a lot of blood.

“Was... accident,” Estel shook his head numbly, his swollen lips uncooperative as he tried to pull himself out of the stupor that he felt was drowning him.

Elrohir lightly touched the bruises on the boy’s face and his bleeding lip. Obvious signs of a fight and not one that his younger human brother had done very well in. “Are you saying that someone punched you the face, repeatedly, on accident?”

“Not... the fight... fell off the roof... th-they pushed me, but they didn’t mean for me to fall on the fence-spikes... I didn’t mean to...” Estel’s body trembled and he obviously was afraid he was in trouble.

Elrond and his sons exchanged glances. Off the *roof*? He assumed the boy meant the roof of the old mill house next to where the twins had found the young human, but... What in the name of Elbereth had Estel been doing fighting on a roof? And with who? Questions however, were going to have to wait.

“Hush, hush Estel, we’ll talk about it later,” Elrond brushed the boy’s hair back from his face gently. “Right now we just need you to be still while we get this under control.”

“I can’t believe whoever it was just left him there to bleed to death!” Elladan pressed harder, finally stopping the dangerous blood flow once more. “Who knows how long he was there before we found him? If that spike hadn’t kept the wound more-or-less closed until it was removed...”

Elrond closed his eyes momentarily. If it hadn’t, they would have lost Estel; there were no two ways about it. The boy couldn’t walk anywhere on that leg and the way the broken fence spokes had pierced him when he fell if he had tried to move, he would have removed the only things keeping him from bleeding to death in minutes. It had been hard getting him back to Rivendell as it was and getting the wound under control again had been momentarily difficult.

Estel moaned and squirmed slightly against the pain, calling out something unintelligible.

“He’s delirious,” Elrohir said softly, touching the human’s brow. “And he’s got a fever. Father... he must have been there a long time.”

Elrond winced both inwardly and outwardly at the thought of Estel trapped and in that kind of pain all by himself. He held the boy tighter.

Estel’s murmuring voice finally quieted and the elf lord could catch what he was saying.

“Erui. Alone.”

“No Estel, you’re not alone,” Elrond guided the boy’s head to his breast, gently wrapping his arms around the young human’s chest and arms, holding him still as the twins removed the splinters and cleaned the wounds to the boy’s legs. Estel thrashed in pain and delirium, but Elrond held him firmly, not letting him do himself any more harm and whispering words of comfort.

The young human’s chest rose and fell raggedly as he started to sob. “Erui, erui!” the boy whimpered in Elvish. “Ú-awartha sí erui nin!” he pleaded. “Do not leave me here alone!”

“Hush Estel, hush,” Elrond calmed the delirious child. “You are not alone, you will never be alone...”

Elladan and Elrohir looked at one another, their eyes locking for a moment. Those words bringing back powerful memories that they had not thought of in centuries.

Elrohir dropped the soiled bandages in the waste as Elladan finished wrapping the new, clean ones. Elrohir touched the small mithril clasp on the shoulder of his tunic before letting his fingers lightly trail over the identical one that was pinned to the front of Elladan’s cloak which his brother had quickly laid aside on the corner table when he started tending Estel.

Elladan looked up and saw his brother’s movements. He knew what Elrohir was thinking. What he was remembering.

They had been roughly the equivalent of Estel’s age. It seemed long ago, and yet very clear; the passing centuries having erased none of the details from their minds.

“You are not alone; you will never be alone...”

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

“A-Ada?” the young voice was trying hard not to sound frightened. Trying and failing.

Gentle fingers reached out in the dark, brushing the side of a dirty cheek. “Yes Elrohir?” Elrond’s voice was soft and quiet, attempting not to show any trace of pain for his sons’ sake.

“Ada you’re fading,” the younger twin’s voice was a mere whisper in the dark. It was true; the elf lord’s natural glow was slowly waning until now it was only a faint shimmer hovering around his skin.

Elrohir’s light, usually dimmer, showed radiantly brighter than that of his father as his smaller hand clasped that of the elder elf.

“I’m just a little tired,” Elrond soothed his child’s concerns, his labored breath belying his words as he leaned in a sitting position against the back wall.

The elf lord’s free hand tightened against the left side of his ribs, pressing hard to steady the pain that was robbing him of his breath. His fingers came away sticky with blood. It was seeping through the bandage again. Elrond wiped his hand quickly on the dark fabric of his tunic to hide the blood from his young sons.

The twins were not fooled. They were young, but they were plenty old enough to understand that their father’s wound was serious.

For their sake, Elrond put forth a little more strength and his glow grew slightly brighter, casting more light around the inky-black, half-collapsed chamber.

Elladan’s fingers were scanning the rough rock and jumbled stones against the far wall, seeking some weak point, some give that might get them out of here, but there was nothing. Kicking the wall in frustration the young elf started over again at the beginning.

Teetering uncertainly on the brink of adulthood, the twins were by elven reckoning just entering into their teenage years, although of course in human time they were far older than that.

Too young, Elrond thought as he watched them with aching eyes. Too young for everything they had been through.

“Elladan, come, sit,” Elrond called to his firstborn, seeing the desperation that was creeping into the young elf’s movements.

Elladan shook his head; leaning his hands against the walls and letting his head hang down, his long brown hair falling around his face before being pushed roughly back again behind his ears. “There has to be a way...”

“Elladan, you’ve gone over the walls three times,” Elrond’s voice was calm and steadying. “I’m afraid the enclosure is quite secure. Come, sit, we should conserve the air.”

Elladan felt the ground trembling beneath his fingers slightly and put one ear to the stone. “They’re coming,” he whispered quietly. Fear that he did not want to admit haunting his words. “They’re digging through from the other side...” he backed slowly away from the wall, nearly stumbling in the darkness. Half falling, half sitting he came down next to his father and brother. Pulling his knees up to his chest and hugging them close the young elf rocked back and forth softly.

Elrond gently touched his son’s bare shoulder, careful of the many cruel stripes that decorated the youngster’s slender back.

“They’ll take us again, they’ll take us again...” Elladan murmured into his arms as he continued rocking.

Elrohir pulled closer to his father’s side, burrowing under the elf lord’s arm, his eyes large in the darkness. He rubbed the rope burn around his wrists with trembling fingers. The memories were too fresh, too painful. He pressed his eyes closed against them, but they were still there on the inside of his eyelids.

The hard, ugly eyes, the rough clawed hands, pulling his arms over his head and tying them around the low-slung tree branch... Elladan was tied on the opposite side, facing him. Their foreheads almost touched.

//The orcs laughed. The fact that the young elves were identical twins amused them greatly and they made bets on which of the two would scream first. The whip fell, again and again, across both of the boy’s backs at the same time. Stroke for stroke the beatings were carefully, mockingly equal...//

Elrohir buried his palms deep into his eyes, shame rushing through him at the memories. He had cried first. He had tried not to, but the pain was too much.

He may have been first, but both boys were screaming before the orcs were through.

It was their cries that brought their father to them.

Elladan clutched his father’s hand against his shoulder. Today hadn’t started out this way. It had started out such a good day. They were hunting, just hunting.

Elrond, Glorfindel, the twins and a few other elves had gone hunting in the foothills near Rivendell as they often did. When the party rested at mid-day, Elladan and Elrohir had asked for and obtained permission to climb the next hill up to where there was a lake to go for a swim.

They never made it to the lake. A party of orcs had taken them by surprise and overcome them before they could call out for help. It did not make matters any better when they realized that they had not merely been taken because they were lone elflings wandering about in the woods, they were taken because they were the sons of Elrond.

Elrond gently ran his fingers through Elrohir’s hair, feeling the young one’s inner turmoil.

The sounds of digging were slowly but steadily getting louder, and closer.

“I won’t cry this time,” Elrohir whispered fiercely, balling his fists. “I won’t!”

Elrond’s heart twisted inside him, hard. His hands on his children tightened firmly. “They will not harm you again El,” his gaze moved from Elrohir to Elladan. They shared the same nickname, so they knew he was including them both. “I will not let them, do you hear me?” His voice was very stern and fiercely protective. “I will not let them touch you again! I promise. I promise...”

The elf lord knew he would keep that promise if he had to die to do it. This was his fault. The boys had been tortured because they were his children... they had only been bait and he unwittingly walked right into the trap.

When several hours passed and the boys did not return the older elves had gone looking for them. They did not find them at the lake and worry consumed the searchers. There were only five of them, and much area to cover, so they were forced to split up to search.

Elrond had not been searching very long when he saw something moving in the trees. He gave chase immediately, but whatever it was got away. A little while later, the same thing happened again, and this time he found the little silver clasps that Elladan had been wearing in his hair that morning lying on the forest floor. Knowing he was going the right way, the elf lord pressed on, even though he was now too far away to get any reinforcements. Without realizing it he was slowly drawn farther away from the others and towards where the twins had been taken. And where the orcs wanted him.

//The lead orc, a beast called Rizhnag, ran his long, clawed fingers teasingly down the side of Elladan’s cheek, lightly breaking the skin. The young elf snapped at him, almost biting the hand, his eyes flashing. Of course that earned the young elf a sharp slap, knocking his head into his brother’s. Both of them winced. Bleeding and reeling from the cruel beating they had just received the young elves felt ill with pain.

“Playful whelp, hm?” Rizhnag sneered. “Watch out elf brat or I’ll teach you what pain really is. I think this one needs a little more tickling Burzog,” he commented to the orc with the whip, who moved back behind Elladan.

“But share and share alike I says,” the lead orc nodded at the other creature behind Elrohir, indicating that if one of the boys were punished, they both would be.

Elrohir’s chest was heaving and his eyes were frightened. Elladan was no less frightened, but felt somehow that he ought to be stronger for his brother. Rubbing his forehead gently against his twin he caught his eyes. “Just look at me El, just look at me and don’t think about them,” he whispered softly in Elvish, stifling a cry and biting his lip as they started on them again. He spoke as much for himself as for his twin.

“Just as well...” Rizhnag grinned. “Have to keep ‘em squeaking until that blasted elf lord shows up... slower now you maggots, slower...” he cautioned his underlings doing the whipping. “More pain, less blood, can’t have them going out on us too soon now can we?//

Elrond looked up in the gloom when soft sounds by his side alerted him. Elladan was crying quietly and trying desperately to hide it. Gently, the elf lord caught the back of his son’s neck and pulled his head over and down, until the young elf’s head rested against his father’s shoulder. Elrohir had already laid his on the other side and Elrond placed one hand on each boy’s head, holding his sons to him. Elrohir wasn’t crying, but he was shaking.

Too much, the boys had been through too much.

“I’m sorry,” Elrond whispered softly into their hair. “I’m so sorry. I should never have let them get you. I should have gotten there sooner...”

Truth to tell he had arrived as soon as he could. But this was still his fault. When he had defended Rivendell and the elves that took refuge there against the hosts of Sauron before the end of the last age, before the twins were born and he and Celebrìan were even married, he did not fully realize the personal enemies he had made then among the orcs that fought him.

Driven into the hills and scattered when Sauron’s attempt for supremacy in the western lands was crushed, the renegade orc warriors had been forgotten. Unfortunately, nearly as long-lived as the elves they originally came from, the orcs had not forgotten. And when they saw a chance for vengeance against the one who had cost them victory over these lands again and again in the past and driven them into the wandering existence they had now, they took it.

Took it in a horrible way.

Elrond would never forget the heart-stopping sound of his sons’ cries that had filtered through the trees as soon as he got close enough to hear. Then when he saw them... when he came into that clearing and saw them... time blurred and distorted from there. He had been too angry and too horrified for conscious thought, but half the orcs were dead before they knew what hit them. He barely even remembered getting this wound that was giving him so much trouble now, except that one of the orcs had tried to run the twins through while they were bound and helpless, and he had gotten in between.

How he got the boys free and fled with them into the mountain caves was a blur. The cave-in that the orcs had brought down to stop their flight and trap them, was a blur... and the elf lord wasn’t sure if that was because of his emotions or because of the sharp, burning pain in his side and the blood loss that was making him woozy.

A ribbon of fire lanced through his injury and Elrond stiffened, grimacing tightly despite his efforts to not, his hands tightening on his children’s foreheads as a small moan escaped his lips.

Elrohir slid down his father’s chest and checked the wound. It was bleeding almost freely again through the bandage. The young elf quickly pulled off his sash and doubled it up, pressing it over the other makeshift bandages they had made. Elladan saw what he was doing and moved to help his twin tie the injury off better.

“Ada, it’s still bleeding,” Elrohir’s voice mirrored both of the twins’ concern.

“It will stop soon, we have to be patient,” Elrond lied for his sons, drawing them back to his shoulder with hands that he refused to allow to tremble. The elf lord knew his body was not healing. He knew that whatever weapon had injured him was poisoned and that the blood would not clot properly, he could feel it at work, but there was nothing more he could do for either the wound or the poison in their current situation than he had already done, so he would not frighten the boys with that which could not be changed.

The digging sounds on the other side of the wall grew louder and the twins huddled closer to their father, not caring if they were acting like children instead of the almost-adults they thought themselves to be. They were afraid.

“Don’t leave us Ada,” Elladan whispered quietly, and the elf lord realized with a start that the boys were not fooled by his show of strength. He had already raised them too well in the knowledge of the healing arts. “I-I... we can’t do this alone.”

 

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~*PART TWO*~

 

“Shh, shhh....” Elrond smoothed their silky hair slowly. “You will never be alone El, either of you. Even if you have no one else around, you will never be alone, because my love will always be with you. You’re mother’s love will always be with you. And your brother’s love, will always be with you,” Elrond placed the two boy’s hands in one another and closed them over with his own.

The elf lord’s eyes glazed slightly as memories of the far distant past clouded his thoughts and he heard his mother’s voice speaking to him, saying those very words as she caressed his face and calmed his fears even as he now tried to do for his boys. They were some of the last words his mother had ever been able to speak to him.

“Ada? Ada!” Elrohir’s voice brought Elrond back from the past and the semi-daze he was falling into.

Elrond steeled his resolve, battling back his own weakness. He would not desert his sons, he would stay and he would fight for them whatever the cost, no matter how hopeless. But he had to stay conscious, he had to keep his mind engaged, and it wouldn’t hurt to take the boys’ thoughts off the impending doom that was tunneling steadily towards them.

“Did I ever tell you about how your grandmother saved a great treasure and became a bird for a while to do it?” he asked, knowing that would get the youngsters interest.

“A bird?” Elladan blinked and made a face. “Grandmother Galadriel?” He couldn’t quite picture it.

Elrond chuckled slightly. “No, not her. I mean my mother, Elwing.”

“Oh,” Elrohir nodded, understanding now. “We never met her.”

“No, no you never did,” Elrond said quietly, his mind on days long distant.

“But we watch Grandfather sail home to her every night across the sky, don’t we?” Elrohir added quickly, hoping he hadn’t made his father sad.

Elrond smiled at the boy’s kind heart. “Yes, we can still see the light of Eärendil, and someday you will meet them both in person. But he was not yet a star in the heavens at the time of which I speak. He was far, far away, sailing on the ocean, for your grandfather loved ships and sailing. I can still remember the feel of the ocean breeze in my face from the days when he would take us sailing with him. Once, Elros dared me to climb to the top of the mast with one hand literally tied behind my back...” Elrond chuckled. “I did, but I nearly broke my neck on the way down. Mother was furious.”

“Elros was your twin brother, wasn’t he?” Elrohir asked although he knew the answer was yes. “He sounds like Elladan!”

Elladan shot his brother a withering glare. “Oh very funny, and who was it that suggested walking across the stream on that rope *blindfolded* last month hm?”

Elrohir just snuggled further into his father’s embrace. “I don’t remember,” he said innocently.

Elrond laughed. “Oh we were very like you two my sons, very. Now I can have great pity on my father and mother...” he smiled when two sets of small elbows jabbed him gently for that. But it was true; Elrond and his brother had even called themselves El and El, even as his sons now did.

“But why was she a bird?” Elrohir returned them to the original topic, his curiosity peaked.

“Why indeed? Now that is a tale...” Elrond’s mind drifted far back in time. “You remember the tales of the Silmarils of Fëanor don’t you? And how Beren and Lúthien rescued one from the crown of Morgoth for Lúthien’s father Thingol?”

The twins nodded. They had heard those stories before, how long ago the elf lord Fëanor had crafted the radiant gems and captured in them the light of the Two Trees of the early days of Arda, before Morgoth destroyed the trees, leaving those three gems the only place that the light could ever be seen again. Beautiful as they were, tragedy had followed the priceless jewels because Fëanor and his sons had refused to give them up to the Valar and swore oaths then that bound them to a terrible fate. Many, many elves died over the ownership of those stones.

“Possession of the Silmaril eventually cost King Thingol his life, and thus it passed back to Lúthien. There for the only time in its history did none chase after it,” Elrond skimmed over the long history briefly, for much of it was already known to his sons. “But after Lúthien left this world the Silmaril passed to her son Dior, who was the father of Elwing my mother... tragedy struck again when my mother was young and she alone of her family survived. But the trouble wasn’t over yet and as so often happens peace was not lasting. Father was away at sea when the sons of Fëanor and those loyal to them came to try yet again to take what they claimed as theirs. Elros and I were almost exactly the same age that you two are now...”

He could still see the cliff, standing tall above the crashing waves. Elwing stood alone on the edge with Maedhros and his compatriot converging slowly on her. Elros lay unconscious on the ground nearby and Maglor was restraining a viciously struggling young Elrond.

//Elwing clutched the Silmaril in her hand and the light flashed radiantly between her fingers as her dark hair whipped about her on the wind blowing up the cliff. The pounding surf filled her ears as the two elves advanced towards her.

Maedhros and Maglor were the last surviving sons of Fëanor, bound by their rashly spoken and terrible oath to recover the Silmarils at any cost... and that cost had already included many countless gallons of innocent elf blood.

“Give it to me Elwing,” Maedhros stretched out his right hand. In his left he held his sword threateningly. “Give it to me and you’re all free to go.”

Elwing’s eyes blazed. “You killed my father and my mother! You and your kin left my brothers to die alone in the woods when they were just BABIES! You murdered my family! *Nothing* will I give to you but my utter contempt Maedhros, son of Fëanor, for I call you cursed! And if ever you lay hands on them, these jewels will be your undoing!”

Maedhros flinched only slightly. “I tried to find your brothers Elwing, it was too late. That was not my doing. But give me the Silmaril or I will not be so concerned about what happens to your sons!”

Elwing was torn. The Silmaril must be saved, it was what her mother, her father and brothers had died for but... they had her children... for an instant her eyes met first Maedhros’ and then Maglor’s.

“Are not the hundreds of innocent lives already on your heads enough? You were elves once, not monsters,” she whispered. “If you have any shred of decency left in you, you will not harm my children! Or this oath *I* swear by the Manwë and all the Valar, that I shall return even from beyond the grave if necessary to avenge them, and never shall your spirit make its way to the blessed lands, even in death!”

Then her eyes met Elrond’s and in that moment Elrond somehow knew, whether by the foresight that was already in him, or just from the look on her face, that this was goodbye.

“Remember what I told you my son!” she called out, backing up to the very edge of the cliff and clutching the Silmaril to her breast. “My love shall always be with you, always!”

Elrond nodded once, understanding that he was releasing her to do that which she must. “Go mother...” he whispered. His gaze fell upon his unconscious brother before rising back to meet Elwing’s and unspoken in his eyes was the promise that he would watch over Elros... they would watch over one another. For they were all that each other now had.

With one last look, Elwing clutched the gem tightly and brilliant white light flashed out between her fingers, nearly blinding the other elves on the cliff edge, making them shield their eyes and fall back a pace. Then she simply stepped backwards off the brink and let herself free-fall towards the pounding waves below, fully intending to take the Silmaril with her to her grave. But she never hit the water.

For Ulmo, the lord of the sea, intervened and lifted her up, giving the elf woman the shape of a great white bird with the Silmaril a flashing white light against her breast. Elrond saw her rise into the air on glistening wings, mirroring the meaning of her name ‘star spray’. The young elf watched her fly away in search of his father... until Elwing at last disappeared against the horizon.

All the elves on the cliff stared after her in shock, until she was gone and whatever spell was upon them seemed to lift. Maedhros and his servant swore loudly as they realized that both Elwing and the Silmaril were gone from their grasp forever.

Elros stirred and moaned, his eyes beginning to flutter open. “El...?” he murmured his brother’s name blearily.

Elrond pulled against Maglor’s hold on his arms, trying to get to his brother’s side. Blood was clotting on the wound across Elros’ brow and the young elf was worried. “Let me go!” he insisted.

Maedhros stalked over and slapped the young one sharply, snapping Elrond’s head first one way and then the other in the viciousness of his rage and causing the boy’s lower lip to bleed. “Shut up! You worthless half-breed brat!”

The older elf wasn’t really angry with the twins, but he was enraged that they had lost the prize that they sought, leaving their fateful oath unfulfilled yet again.

Elros struggled to his feet, catching Maedhros’ arm before he could strike his brother again and grappling with the bigger elf. “Stop it! Leave El alone!”

Maedhros threw Elros off his arm, sending the boy sprawling again, the younger twin fell and did not rise again.

Maglor released Elrond, allowing him to go to his brother’s side. With their servants and compatriots all around there was nowhere for the twins to run if they tried.

“What do we do with them?” Maedhros’ servant Fandril wanted to know, favoring the two young half-elves with a disdainful look. “Kill them?”

“No!” Maglor shook his head, seeking his brother’s eyes.

“No, not again,” Maedhros shook his head wearily. “We take them back with us. Lock them up.”//

“I can’t believe they were so wicked!” Elladan’s voice interrupted the story. “That they killed all those people for a jewel! I hope they both died.”

Elrond shook his head, that was over-simplifying things slightly, but essentially his son was not far off in his assessment. Although truth be told, of all Fëanor’s sons, those two had probably been the least twisted. “They did,” he said quietly. “What my mother said was true, for in the end the Silmarils were their undoing. But although Maglor and Maedhros did many wicked things with their brothers, I pity them in the end for they were bound by an oath that should never have been pledged and it destroyed their lives as surely as it destroyed many others.”

“And did they put you in prison?” Elrohir wanted to know. Somehow it was comforting to hear that his father had gone through something terrible and survived when he was their age... maybe it meant they would make it out of this current situation as well.

“Yes, they did,” Elrond’s voice was quiet. Those were hard, fearful days to recall. The dark, the imprisonment, the uncertainty... “We were taken to Maedhros’ stronghold in the hills of Himring and put down in the deepest cellar of his keep. We spent many, many months in a small dark hole, not much bigger or brighter than this. We feared that they meant to leave us down there for eternity. The only time we saw another living soul was on the infrequent occasions when the servants would bring us food, but the servants in charge of our care were neither kind nor considerate and we did not look forward to their appearances, we dreaded them...”

//“Someone’s coming,” Elros’ voice echoed slightly in the empty little room, he was holding Elrond’s head in his lap so the other did not have to lie on the damp stone floor.

“I know,” was his brother’s weak reply. “It’s Fandril, I recognize his step.” Of the two of them, Elrond’s hearing and sight reflected more of their Elvish heritage then his brother. But he also needed daylight and stars and the fresh, free air more than Elros seemed to. The young being was sliding into despondency over their situation and his health was beginning to fail him.

Elros moaned slightly and pulled his brother back against him, scooting them both further back into the corner of their prison. Fandril was routinely cruel to them.//

The two boys were not allowed to eat alone, but had to be watched, and then the dishes and utensils were taken away at once. Elrond never did figure out what exactly their captors feared the two young elves could actually DO with those items if left to themselves, but mealtimes were very uncomfortable because the guards did not like to be kept waiting around and if they felt the twins were taking too long sometimes a beating was in order.

“They *beat* you for not eating fast enough??” Elladan couldn’t help interrupting again, indignation coloring his words. He couldn’t imagine anyone treating his father that way!

Elrohir touched the side of his Ada’s face gently. “I’m so sorry.”

Elrond smiled. He had good sons. Sometimes they seemed younger than they really were simply because they did not hide their hearts from him and place between them the distance that some mistakenly believed came with age. “It was a very long time ago young ones. It doesn’t hurt me to remember anymore.”

Pain rippled through Elrond’s awareness from the injury in his side and the elf lord drew his breath in sharply. The chamber was eerily quiet for a few moments. The diggers on the other side seem to have hit a snag or rock or something because the sounds had halted for a few minutes.

“Ada?” the soft word rang in the darkness and Elrond drew in a deep breath. He was fading in more ways than one, but he had to hold on, he had to, for the two precious gems next to him still needed him.

“Ada?” Elladan shook his father’s shoulder gently... but he didn’t sound like Elladan anymore in Elrond’s head, he sounded like Elros...

//“El? Come on El, sit up. You’ve got to eat, you need your strength,” his brother was coaxing him, trying to get him to respond before he got in trouble with Fandril and their other guards. Elrond had barely touched his food and his head rested heavily against his brother’s shoulder. His breathing rattled alarmingly. Elros was really beginning to fear that his brother intended to leave him as well.

Elrond would eat if Elros fed him, but only slowly. He was fading and his will to live was slowly evaporating.

“If he doesn’t want to eat when it’s here it’s on his own head,” Fandril took the trays away from them, obviously impatient to be on with his day.

“No, please, wait,” Elros swallowed his pride and pleaded for his brother’s sake.

Fandril slapped him sharply for talking back and gave Elrond a shove for good measure. The semi-conscious elf whimpered slightly and Elros’ temper got the better of him.

“Why do you hate us so much? Would it kill you to be a decent being for once? Can’t you tell my brother is ill? He could die in this hole!” the young one’s eyes snapped fire.

“Real elves don’t get ill,” Fandril snorted, his face darkening like a cloud at being rebuffed by a child. “This is what comes of Men and Elves mixing as they have no business doing. You should never have been born! Your blood is tainted! If you die you merely rid the earth of your abominable presence. Some may call you elves but you are not, for I will not claim any kinship with half-breeds!”

“Well who ever said I wanted to be an elf anyway?” Elros shot back, too angry to think of caution. Elrond, brought out of his stupor by the loud voices was tugging on his brother’s arm and shaking his head, knowing this Elros was only going to get himself in trouble.

Elros ignored his twin, his ire fully up. “And I wouldn’t want to be related to you either! I am a man, like my father!” In reality Eärendil was half-elven as well, but had always seemed to associate more closely with his human kindred.

Fandril laughed. “You are *nothing*! No race will claim you.”

“You lie!” Elros spit at the older elf’s face, causing his brother’s eyes to go wide. They were in sooo much trouble now.

Fandril wiped his face, a dangerous scowl darkening his features. “You boy, are going to pay for that.”

Grabbing Elros the older elf jerked the young one forward, pushing him up against the wall and passing him off to some of the others to hold there as he pulled a leather thong off his belt.

Elrond was struggling to get to his feet and the older elf looked at him dispassionately. “Put him up next to the other.”

When Elros realized Fandril meant to punish them both he began to struggle. “No, don’t! He didn’t do anything, you’ll kill him! He’s too weak! Please don’t!”

Their captors had no mercy and Elrond could only lean trembling against the wall and wince as the thick leather strap fell across his shoulders.

The guards might have actually killed him unintentionally if they had been allowed to continue, but it was then that Maglor, who was visiting his brother, came upon what was going on. Hard the hearts of the sons of Fëanor might have been, but he was not unmoved by the twins plight, having not been totally conscious of the condition they were being kept in, nor the unreported brutality of the guards, of which even Maedhros was not really aware.

He made Fandril stop the beating and looked with concern upon the thin, pale faces of the twins. The ill one he judged would not survive another week thus imprisoned. His heart moved for them and he spoke to his brother, securing that the twins would be released into his custody and return with him to his dwelling in the Gap. He kept them bound in transport, but was surprisingly gentle towards his young prisoners and tender in his care of Elrond’s illness and their wounds. And the one thing he made sure of was that they were never put in the dark again.

With fresh air, sunlight and a reprieve from despair, Elrond revived and his strength slowly began to return.

Elros laid his hand on his brother’s head gently...//

“Ada?”

But no, that was not Elros’ voice raised in near panicked concern, that was Elrohir. And it was Elladan’s hand that rested on his head. Elrond pulled himself alert once more, realizing he had almost drifted off.

“Ada don’t go!” Elrohir’s voice was pleading as he and his brother exchanged worried looks over their father’s unresponsive form.

“Shh... I’m here, it’s all right, I’m here,” Elrond blinked slowly, his voice faint but tender. “I’m here. Now where was I...?”

“You were imprisoned by the largest idiots ever to mar Middle Earth and stuck in a dark hole like this one,” Elladan prompted, realizing that telling the story was helping their father stay with them as much as it was helping keep their minds off the digging that had started up again just outside their refuge.

Elrond chuckled at his son’s descriptive choice of words. “Yes, well, we didn’t stay there fortunately. Maglor took us out and took us to his home. We were still captives, but in Maglor’s house we were treated fairly. He put us to work for him and we had to work hard, but Maglor allowed no one to abuse us at least, and gradually, with time, our lot improved. As unlikely as it seems he grew very fond of us, and we of him. Eventually he set us free, although we stayed on for a time, scarcely knowing where else in the world we would go. Eventually we moved to Eregion and the lands beyond...”

“And that’s when you were given the choice,” Elrohir said quietly.

“Yes,” Elrond sighed. “That’s when we were given the choice... to choose forevermore whether we would be counted among the race of elves or of men.”

Silence hung between them for a few moments, broken only by the scratching outside.

Elladan and Elrohir looked at one another, trying to imagine what it would feel like to have to make a choice that would separate them like that. “Were you sad that Elros chose to be mortal?” they couldn’t help asking.

“I was sad that we would not always be together, but I loved my brother and I respected his choice. His heart lay with men and he would never have been happy with the long life of the Eldar, it would have wearied him, I understand that now. At the time of course it was hard, and took me a long time to deal with. But I can be happy for him now, because he lived the way he wanted to and passed from this life in the manner in which he chose. Besides...” he touched his sons’ heads gently. “The night he told me what he chose, he reminded me of our mother’s words... and he was right. His love is always with me, even as hers is, and I have never been alone.”

The sound of something striking stone, very close by, made them all jerk. “Are we going to die?” Elrohir whispered quietly in the darkness. His voice was soft but did not waver. If they had to die here, at least they would be together.

Elrond hugged the young ones tightly. “I have something for the both of you,” he said instead of answering, reaching into the breast pocket of his tunic. “I meant to give them to you while we were on this trip... This isn’t exactly the setting I had intended, and yet maybe it fits in a way.”

The elf lord pulled two palm-sized mithril brooches out of his pocket. The two younger elves could see them sparkling clearly in the three elves’ combined light. They were shaped like small stars, woven from many twisting strands of mithril that looked at the same time silver and gold. Beautifully fashioned creations of careful craftsmanship they were and yet understatedly simple in design. And they were both of them identical, down to the very last flourish.

Elrond pressed one into each of his sons’ palms. “These were made for Elros and me, very long ago. A gift from our parents. Now I want you two to have them. To help you remember always how very, very much I love you my sons.”

Gently wrapping his arms around their hurting shoulders, Elrond kissed each of his boys gently on the top of their head.

The rock wall nearby shook and quivered from the work being done on the other side and rocks began to slide and fall, kicking up dust into the air.

“They’re breaking through,” Elladan whispered quietly, holding tight to both his father’s shoulder and his brother’s hand.

Elrond took a deep breath and gathered his strength. His light had faded to an almost imperceptible gleam, but he pushed himself upright, holding onto the cave wall and pulling his sword.

“Elladan, Elrohir, listen to me,” the elf lord said urgently, turning to face his boys as the rocks began to fall away from the wall in earnest. “We cannot let them trap us in here. I’m going to try to push a way out and hold them. As soon as there is an opportunity, I want you to run my sons. No matter what happens, do you understand me? I want you to run as fast as you can and don’t look back. Find the others. And if...” he stopped. “If I am not with you when you return to Imladris, tell your mother that I love her and will be waiting for her.”

“Ada no!” Elladan was shaking his head. “We won’t leave you!”

“We are not children, we will fight!” Elrohir nodded his agreements.

Elrond shook his head firmly, his voice taking on an edge of urgency. “No, you have to promise me! If you me love dear ones, promise me!”

Mournfully the twins murmured their promise, tears filling their eyes.

Elrond kissed them both one last time. “Remember what I told you,” he whispered. “You are never alone.”

The wall crumbled completely, opening a large, gaping hole and filling the air with a thick, choking layer of dust.

Elrond pulled himself up and stood at the ready. His dull light flared suddenly bright and fierce as he put himself between the opening and his children, one hand holding his sword and the other clutching his side, bitter determination flaming in his eyes.

“Lacho calad! Drego morn!” The elf lord called out the ancient battle cry in a loud voice as the last of the stones fell at his feet. “Flame Light! Flee night!”

Elladan and Elrohir gripped one another’s hands tightly, holding in the other hand the gifts their father had given them. The sharp edges of the cool metal dug into their palms. “Lacho calad! Drego morn!” They echoed their father’s cry with determined desperation. Expecting the rush of orcs at any moment, their injured bodies trembled slightly, betraying more weakness than they would have wished.

 

___________________________________________________________

~*PART THREE*~

 

Elrond stood protectively in front of his sons, ready to defend them from whatever should come. However, instead of the black horde they expected, another light shown into the chamber from the other side of the hole as the dust slowly settled.

“Sîdh! Peace!” A familiar voice called out to them. “Elrond, is that you?”

Elrond nearly sagged in relief at the sound of the fair words, letting his sword drop to his side and leaning his shoulder against the wall. “Glorfindel! It is I, and the twins,” he responded as the other elf lord stooped to pass through the low hole that had been made before straightening up and taking in the situation.

Behind Glorfindel Elrond could see the faces of the other elves from the hunting party peering in through into the gloom.

The twins ran up and unabashedly hugged the very welcome newcomer, throwing their arms around the golden-haired friend of their father in relief and welcome.

“Mae Govannen Glorfindel,” Elrond smiled ruefully, clutching his side tightly, but smiling through his weariness. “*Very* well met indeed, but what of the orcs?”

“They are slain, they will trouble you no more,” Glorfindel offered Elrond his arm, concern crossing his fair face. “But they seemed to have been so intent on digging through this rockslide... we thought we had better see what they were trying to reach.”

“And I’m so very glad you did,” Elrond murmured. “Although you may have taken years off an immortal life by not announcing yourselves sooner!” he shook his head. Unfortunately that caused the world to spin around him and he stumbled, clutching the wall harder as the already dark room plunged into complete blackness.

The elf lord’s knees buckled and he fell. Elrohir and Glorfindel caught him. “Ada! Ada!”

Quickly he was taken outside and laid on the grass where the other elves could see to his wounds.

“Ai Elbereth,” the golden-haired elf murmured when he saw Elrond’s injury. “Even a half hour more and this would have been beyond aide.” Seeing the frightened faces of Elladan and Elrohir looking at him the older elf quickly softened the concern on his features. “But fear not young ones, even those of us not as skilled as your father in healing can be of some use. He will not leave us yet, I promise you.”

Elladan held his father’s head in his lap while Elrohir helped Glorfindel wash and cleanse the wound. Then the elves tended to the twins’ injuries, and it was obvious from the angered and painful looks on the elder elves’ faces that the cruel abuse heaped upon the young elves burned each heart to see. But Elladan and Elrohir cared nothing for their own hurts anymore, grievous as they were; their concern was only for their father.

After what seemed a very long time, the elf lord’s eyes finally fluttered open again, locking immediately onto the worried faces of his children. He smiled weakly, reaching for them. They scooted closer. “I told you, didn’t I?” he whispered hoarsely. “We are never alone,” he inclined his eyes upward. “Ilúvatar was watching over all of us this day my sons...”

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

“Ada?” Estel’s weak, but clear voice made all three elves look up and smile. His wounds were dressed but he had fallen into unconsciousness for a while and was only now waking up. Elrond had been speaking quietly to him the whole time and the boy turned tired, blood-shot eyes on his father. “What did you say Ada?”

“I said that Ilúvatar was watching over you my son,” Elrond said gently, arranging Estel’s dark hair on the pillow.

“That’s funny,” the young human murmured. “That’s what you said in my dream... Or something like it. Elrond and Elladan were there too, but it was very dark... and there were other young elves... I think... and a brilliant jewel... or was that somewhere else?” his brow creased in confusion. “I don’t remember.”

Elrond kissed the boy’s forehead. “We’ve been worried about you my son. I’m just glad you’re all right.”

“I don’t *feel* all right,” Estel moaned slightly.

“I shouldn’t wonder!” Elrohir chuckled. “Considering we pulled more splinters out of you than a new-hewn tree-branch. Estel, what *happened*?”

Estel’s eyes clouded slightly. “I-I’m sorry,” he apologized right up front because he felt he was going to have to do a lot of it. “I know I shouldn’t have let them goad me...”

“Who Estel?” Elladan interrupted him.

“Just some of the older kids from Strayton...” Estel hedged. When he said older he meant older, considering most of the young men who had picked on him were at least two to four years his senior. “I didn’t mean to get tangled up with them, honest, I was just exploring the old mill down by the river...”

//“Hey short stuff,” Tyrin, one of the oldest, biggest boys shoved Estel from behind, making him stumble forward, down the incline towards the river. “This is our place, what are you doing here?”

Tyrin was an unabashed bully and so were his friends. This old mill, quite some ways from town, was a favorite gathering place of theirs. All the youngsters in Strayton knew that and avoided it. But Estel was not from the nearby human town and had had very few dealings with its people... or with any other humans for that matter.

“Yeah orc-bait, don’t you know what’s good for you?” someone else put in.

Estel took several deep breaths before turning around so that when he faced the other boys his expression was neutral. He had been taught to handle things with a level head. He didn’t even know these boys; there was no reason for there to be animosity between them. He hadn’t known that this place was off-limits.

“I’m sorry, I thought this mill was abandoned. I didn’t know it belonged to you. I was just looking around-” the young human started to explain calmly.

“I was just looking around,” the bigger boy mocked him in a high-pitched tone, making fun of the fact that Estel’s voice hadn’t changed yet. The other boys laughed. They were bored and looking for something to do. Unfortunately picking on the new kid who had stumbled upon their hangout seemed like a pretty good way to waste some time.

“We exact a fee from trespassers around here orc-bait!” a tall boy on the right sneered.

Estel was getting mighty tired of being called that. He was trying to be diplomatic with these people, but they were being so difficult! “My *name* is Estel,” he informed them curtly. “And if this is your land then I will gladly move along. Good day.”

“Estel? What kind of name is Estel?!” another one of Tyrin’s friends mocked, moving into Estel’s path so he couldn’t pass. “Sounds like a girly name! I haven’t seen you around town. Are you new here girly boy?”

“No, my home is over the hills,” Estel kept his temper to himself. He didn’t understand why the other teenagers didn’t like him without even knowing him, but he didn’t want to give them more reason to do so. “I don’t live in Strayton.”

“Over the hills? There’s nothing out there!” one of the boys shook his head. “You’re putting us on.”

“Hey, wait...” recognition sparked in Tyrin’s eyes. “I know you, I *have* seen you before, you’re never with the other kids from town, but you hang out with those elves, I’ve seen you!” Tyrin gave the younger boy another sharp shove.

“Yes, so?” Estel turned again and walked back up the slope towards the mill, away from the other boys. Inside his heart stung at their mocking, but outwardly he remained totally calm-faced which only made the other boys angrier.

“So why do you waste your time with them? Your own kind isn’t good enough for you?” the boys dogged Estel’s steps. “Why don’t we ever see you in the fields, or out playing, or even in the school?” Not all children attended the small community lessons that the rural village sometimes offered, so that was tacked on last.

Estel shrugged. “I’m busy. I told you, I don’t live near town. I have my lessons at home.” The boys were still not letting him all the way up the hill and back towards the road, so he clambered up the side of the huge, broken water-wheel that hung still and useless on the land-side of the deserted mill, wanting to be away from the unpleasant youngsters.

“Why? Are you stupid or something?” the village boys were not taking the hint that he wanted to be left alone. They were having too much fun.

“Where do you live, in a cave?”

“No, Rivendell, and my father teaches me because Lord Elrond is the wisest person there is.” Estel settled himself on the top of the wheel, using one rung as a seat as he absently worked at pulling a smooth stone out of a small crevice where it had become jammed in the wheel.

“Rivendell?! You *live* with the elves? Geez, no wonder you’re so weird!” Tyrin leaned against the bottom of the wheel. “Lord Elrond can’t be your father, he’s an elf and you’re just as human as we are freak!”

“I was adopted,” Estel leveled the troublesome boys with a look that clearly showed he thought they were all morons for not grasping the obvious. He was getting very tired of them. “I trust you know what that means.”

“Means you’re a nobody who’s not a man and not an elf,” one of the boys at Tyrin’s elbow jibed. “And you’re just a big sissy boy like all those elves!”

The boys started to pull on opposite sides of the old water-wheel, attempting to unbalance Estel and bring him down.

Estel scrambled quickly up onto the roof of the mill, deciding that these boys knew absolutely nothing if they were calling elves sissies. That notion was so absurd it was laughable. “Leave me alone, you’re being immature.”

Having grown up around elves many times his senior, Estel had picked up many ‘old’ ways of talking. Unfortunately this only fueled the other humans’ scathing amusement and ire.

“Immature?” Tyrin laughed with a wicked grin as he climbed up the side of the wheel towards Estel. “A little girly whelp like you is calling *me* immature?”

Estel glared, his patience totally worn out. “Frankly I’m surprised you even know what the word means...” the boy backed slowly away across the creaking slating of the old mill roof, his eyes darting around sharply, looking for a way off as the other boy pulled himself up, his face coloring with rage.

“What did you say? What did you say to me orc-bait? Are you calling me an idiot?!” Tyrin menaced, advancing on the smaller boy as several of Tyrin’s friend climbed up onto the roof behind him. “Are you *looking* for a pounding kid?”

“I’m not looking for anything, I just want you to leave me alone!” Estel backed away slowly, looking for a way out as the other boys converged on him. The boards under his feet creaked unstably and Estel stopped moving back, he could tell the boards were rotten here and would not hold his weight, he could go no further this way. Unfortunately the right side of the mill dropped away sharply into the river and the left overhung a tangled mass of sharp debris and broken fencing. Neither looked promising to jump from and he could not go back or forward with the boys blocking him in...

Estel swallowed hard and stood his ground. “Fighting doesn’t solve anything,” the boy shook his head. “I don’t want to fight you. Let me down.”

“I don’t want to fight you, let me down,” Tyrin mocked again. “Coward! Make us!” With that he rushed the other boy.

Estel side-stepped quickly, evading the boy’s rush, and ducking under the hands of a second. Striking out with calculated moves he caught a third boy in the stomach and flipped him over his back, dancing side-ways, edging towards the water-wheel and the only safe way down.

Seven to one, Estel was badly out numbered, but the training he had been receiving from an early age stood him in good stead. He had nearly reached the wheel when the rotten beam beneath his foot snapped, making him stumble and fall to his hands and knees on the slick roofing.

The other boys never gave him the chance to get up again. Pouncing on him like wargs on their prey the older children punched and kicked the younger boy viciously. Estel fought back, but against such odds there was little he could do but try to twist away from the worst of the abuse.

Squirming out of their grip and rolling he sprung to his feet, only to run smack into Tyrin’s fist. Estel stumbled, his lip bleeding, and Tyrin caught him by the shirt. The older boy spun the younger around, taking full advantage of his superior size and weight.

Estel however, was not easily tossed off and ducked under Tyrin’s second blow, coming back with his own that caught the bully in the mouth, cracking a tooth and making the older boy let go of him. Estel stumbled back a pace, and half-dodged one of the other boys who tried to tackle him. But the shove threw him off balance and his boots skidded on the loose roofing shingles. His hands found only air as he tumbled off the edge of the mill roof and down onto the sharp spikes of the broken fencing that lay in a tangled, dangerous heap on the left side of the tall building.

Tyrin and the others looked over the edge in shock, taking in where the other boy had fallen, how the spikes had caught him, and the blood that was already starting to well up around the ugly wounds. Estel’s neck was bent back and he wasn’t moving.

To say that the boys on the roof were frightened was an understatement.

“Oh geez we’ve killed him!” one of Tyrin’s friends quailed, backing away and scrambling for the wheel.

“It was an accident! It was an accident!” Tyrin felt sick. He hadn’t meant for that to happen. None of them had. “Let’s go, come on, let’s get out of here!” There was a mad scramble to get down.

“This didn’t happen, do you hear me? None of us were here!” Tyrin shot one terrified glance back at the still body before turning and fleeing with the others. “It was an accident!”

Estel blinked, hearing the sounds of the retreating boys as consciousness slowly returned. His neck had come with in inches of snapping, but it had not and he had miraculously broken nothing. However the sharp, raw ends of the broken wood posts had cut him and one spike had torn deep into his right leg. Pain engulfed his whole being.

“Wait!” he called when he realized the other boys were going to just leave him there. “Wait, please! I-I can’t move. I can’t...” his mind was hazy from the fall and from his own hurt. “Please don’t leave me! Don’t leave me here alone! Please!”

But the other boys never heard him. They were already long gone. Estel tried to move, but when he attempted to get free of the narrow shard that pierced his upper leg he nearly passed out again. He called out for help until he lost his voice, but no one heard. He was trapped and no one even knew where he was.//

Estel had no idea how much time later it was when his brothers found him there, but by then his body had already slid into shock and he remembered very little except the aching feeling of how alone and helpless he had been.

“I’m sorry,” Estel apologized again, playing with a corner of the silken sheet that lay pulled up to his chest. Except for the ache in his legs, he didn’t feel too bad anymore; but he feared he was in trouble, which was worse. “I didn’t try to get in a fight with them, honestly I didn’t.”

“I know you didn’t Estel, I’m not angry this time,” Elrond assured the boy. Estel had been in trouble for fighting before, but this time it was most assuredly not the youngster’s fault. He had handled himself in a way that did him great credit and Elrond was proud of him, if also heart-broken at the hurt he had taken.

Elladan was still furious, although he contained it well for Estel’s sake. “They didn’t even check to see if he was still alive!” he said quietly. “Estel would have died from their thoughtlessness if we hadn’t found him when we did.”

Elrond nodded slowly, for once he agreed with Elladan’s level of ire. “You can be sure I will be speaking to someone about this. Those boys parents *will* know what they’ve been up to.”

“Ada...” Estel’s tired voice made the elf lord look down again. “Ada they said I wasn’t anything because I was a man who called elves my family. But that’s not true. Why did they say that? I-I am something, aren’t I?”

Elrond closed his eyes before taking his youngest’s hands in his. He could still hear the words that had been thrown at he and his brother so many years ago...

You are *nothing*! No race will claim you...

Yes, he knew how Estel felt. “Oh Estel, of course you are. I don’t know why people say cruel things to one another, but my son what they said was a lie. You are a man, and that is a proud heritage to bear. You are the son of a very, very good man and woman who were close to your brothers and to me. And most of all Estel, you are the son of my heart. I will always love you and be with you.”

Estel smiled, but then looked down. “No you won’t,” he whispered softly. “Elves go away. They go away where I never can. Someday you will all leave me.” He looked achingly between his brothers and father.

“No Estel,” Elrond soothed the boy’s fears gently. “No matter where you are, or where we are, we will always be with you because our love will always be with you.”

Elrohir nodded, touching his little brother’s shoulder. “And no power in Arda or anywhere else can ever change that,” he promised.

Elladan had left their side for a moment, but now he reappeared, holding his cloak in one hand. The other hand was closed around something that the others could not see. Dropping the cloak Elladan knelt beside his little human brother’s bed.

“Estel? A long time ago, Ada gave Elrohir and I something very special. It belonged to he and his brother before us. Now I want you to have it.” Elladan gently pressed his mithril brooch into his younger brother’s palm, smiling as he saw Estel’s eyes light up both in awe and surprise.

Estel had admired those particular pieces of jewelry since he was a little child and would play with it on the twins’ cloaks when they held him in their arms. The human had always been fascinated by the graceful curves and the shiny alloy.

“Elladan, you can’t give me this, you love this brooch, you and Elrohir always wear them!” Estel tried to refuse, but his older brother just took his hand and closed the human’s fingers around the smooth, cool clasp.

“And I love *you* little brother,” Elladan smiled, ruffling the young one’s hair. “And I want you to have it, because you are a part of our family and I want you to have the same gift with it that father gave us. The knowledge of how very much we will always love you.”

Elrohir smiled at his brother. Elladan certainly had his moments. The light on Estel’s bruised and drawn face was beautiful to see as he held the prized treasure close.

Elrond watched his children with eyes that were full. Full of love, full of life, full of happiness.

“You would be proud of this descendent of yours Elros,” he whispered quietly. “He is so like you my brother.”

“Now, Estel,” Elrohir’s grin turned impish as he let himself flop down on the end of the bed, careful of his younger brother’s injuries. “I hope you don’t think this means you’re getting out of your week of stable duty. You lost that archery contest to me fair and square yesterday and I do believe I remember something about that supposed to be starting tomorrow...”

“Oh *right*,” Estel rolled his eyes, chuckling slightly. “I think I’ll jump up there and go do it right now.”

“Don’t egg him on El, you know he just might!” Elladan shook his head.

Elrond rose as the three brothers teased each other quietly. “Well I think *I* am going to go fix some tea for Estel while there is still some sanity left in the room...” he said as he headed for the door. “Elladan, Elrohir, when you can spare the time, you can clean this mess up a bit.”

It took a few moments for the others to catch what he had said.

“Look out,” Elrohir murmured with mock-drama as he scooted off the bed. “Father’s making tea!”

Elladan and Elrohir started laughing helplessly, and Estel just looked between them in confusion.

“So? What’s so funny? El?! What’s so funny?” Estel demanded when his brothers only laughed.

“You’ve never had father’s tea before have you?” Elladan just shook his head as he rose to his feet.

“I think I feel bedtime for young humans coming on.” Elrohir ruffled the younger boy’s hair as they had a habit of doing and Estel pulled away, batting at his big brother’s hand.

Estel rolled his eyes. “Stop treating me like a baby. I’m not tired and I want to know why you’re laughing.”

“Oh you will be tired soon,” Elladan replied cryptically as they began to clean up the room, putting away the bandages and loose herbs that were strewn about from their urgent haste earlier in the day.

A pillow hit the elder twin smack in the back of the head, making him drop the things he had gathered up. Elladan turned quickly only to catch another pillow straight in the face. A seam burst and feathers floated gently around the tall elf, creating an incredibly comical picture.

Elrohir, on the other side of the room, laughed. “He got you good that time El!”

Estel, on the bed, was trying to look innocent even though he was now sans two pillows that had been there before.

“Did you loose something little brother?” Elladan advanced on the bed with a wicked grin, holding the offending article in front of him.

Estel gave his big brother the most wide-eyed “Who, me?” look he could muster. Elladan was not impressed.

“Hey, hey...” Estel scooted back against the headboard of his bed as much as he could as Elladan came closer. “You can’t touch me, I’m hurt, see? I’m recovering!” He held a pillow up between them.

“Oh really?” Elladan climbed up onto the side of the bed next to him. “You seem awfully spunky to me...”

“Yes really, hey, stay away! You can’t hit me back, Ada wouldn’t like it!” The young boy grinned impishly and tried to whack Elladan with the pillow he held, but found Elladan was quicker and caught it, easily twisting it out of his little brother’s grasp.

“No, dear brother?” Elladan smiled, kneeling carefully over Estel but being incredibly cautious of his brother’s injuries, so that the younger one couldn’t escape him, yet was not being harmed. Pushing the pillow up under the human’s chin Elladan pulled a handful of feathers from the broken seam. “But I can make you eat it!” he chuckled evilly, tickling Estel’s nose and face with the loose, silky feathers and making the boy laugh helplessly.

“No fair! Hey, Elladan! Stop! Elrohir!! Help!”

Elrohir however was laughing so hard he was absolutely useless.

The sound of a very familiar voice clearing his throat made them all stop and look up. Elrond was standing in the doorway with a tray holding a steaming cup of tea on it, one eyebrow arched very high. He walked into the room, glancing at the feathers that were floating lightly down to the floor around him.

“Elladan, get off your brother,” he couldn’t keep the smile out of his voice no matter how hard he tried.

Elladan rolled off the bed and Estel shot him a ‘told you so’ look. “Give me back my pillow.”

Elladan promptly planted the pillow he was still holding right in the boy’s face.

“Elladan!” Elrond had to set the tray down or he was going to spill. Sometimes his sons were simply too much, and they had a fondness for this particular type of merriment that had not grown less with age... nor did it seem likely to.

Elladan’s eyes were innocent. “What? He wanted it back.”

Elrond shook his head, pushing the pillows where they belonged behind Estel’s back and head once more and handing the boy his tea. “Remind me which of you is the young one,” the elf lord muttered. “I told you to clean the room up, not make it a worse disaster. I swear I lose more pillows to the three of you! Will you never outgrow that habit?”

“Probably not,” Estel said with a grin as he finished the warm, soothing liquid in the cup he was holding. Strangely he was beginning to feel very sleepy. “We’ll probably be doing it still when I’m an old man...” he yawned and blinked, his head starting to feel very heavy. “Do you really mind Ada?” he asked somewhat blearily as his head began to nod.

Elrond smiled gently, taking the empty cup from relaxing fingers, easing the boy’s head back against his pillows. “Of course not. I hope it never changes Estel,” he whispered quietly as the boy drifted off to sleep, lulled by the herbs Elrond had added to his tea.

Elrohir gently pulled the sheets up to Estel’s chin, tucking the young boy’s arms under the covers. He paused. The clasp Elladan had given him was still clenched firmly in one slender fist and even in slumber Estel wasn’t about to let it go.

Elrohir just smiled as he put that hand on the boy’s chest and pulled the covers over it. “I think that meant a lot to him El,” he glanced at his brother with a smile.

Elladan smiled, brushing stray feathers down from Estel’s tumbling dark locks. “I wanted him to know.” Elladan’s eyes caught his father’s, seeking approval for his actions. After all, he knew the history behind what he had given away.

Elrond touched his son’s shoulder gently, moving to let one hand rest on the back of either twin as he stood looking between them. “Estel should have died today, but he did not,” he whispered softly. “The day I gave you those brooches, I should have died, but did not. So often, we see only the bad that happens when we feel there should have been good, and not the good that happens when tragedy would have been the more ready option. That is something for us all to hold unto I think,” he smiled at his boys, all three of them.

The twins let their arms meet behind their father’s back and Elrohir reached down to let his fingers drift across Estel’s forehead while Elladan touched their little brother’s hand, creating an unbroken circle of love that seemed to visibly brighten the small room.

It was true. None of them would ever truly walk alone.

 

THE END