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A Small Reprieve

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Maedhros was relieved to finally see the lights of Amon Ereb shining through the gloom of an overcast afternoon. With luck, he and his escort would be back in time for dinner.

Aside from the weather – unseasonably chilly and wet - the journey from Sarn Athrad had been gratifyingly uneventful. Not that it meant they hadn’t been on alert the entire time. One could never tell when a peaceful ride might turn into an ambush.

He did not want to make that ride again. He hoped the ford directly to the east was still passable. It would be safer to have the Gelion between them and East Beleriand. Assuming, of course, anything in Beleriand could be called ‘safe’ these days.

It was typical that the clouds that had been glowering at them all day finally opened up just a few miles from the fortress. By the time they reached the stables and Maedhros was able to dismiss his escort, elves and horses alike were thoroughly soaked and muddy.

That didn’t matter in the least to Elros, who had spotted him from the steward’s office and only waited (probably under protest) until Maedhros was inside the main building before launching himself at him for a hug.

“You’re back! We missed you! There’s loads to tell you!”

“Oh, good, you’re back. As you’re both dirty soggy messes, you may as well bathe at the same time.”

The tiredness in his brother’s voice told Maedhros it had been at the very least a long day, and quite probably the latest in a string of them. It was easy enough to manage both boys and the running of the fortress when there were two of them to switch off, but sole responsibility would wear on Makalaurë in particular fairly quickly.

It didn’t help that Elros had always been more like Tyelko than anyone else in the family from the day they’d met him. Elrond if left to his own devices would probably hole up in the library until hunger drove him out. Elros might well destroy the castle. (It would be an accident, of course. It always was. And never the same one twice.)

“I’m only wet!” Elros protested. “I had a bath after our hour with Pelendur!”

Maedhros was too tired for argument, so he simply scooped the boy up and slung him over one shoulder. The twins were tall for their age, but still a good many years from too big for that trick to work.

“You can tell me about some of the ‘loads’ in the bath, little one,” he said briskly without slowing his progress toward the stairs to the family level. “Unless it’s things Makalaurë should hear also?”

Elros was too experienced at how being ‘captured’ for bathtime went to bother trying to squirm free. He might well be glaring half-heartedly at the cousin who wasn’t carrying him upstairs, but the only reaction Maedhros caught was a sigh.

“No, he already knows most of what I want to tell you because he was here for it,” Elros pointed out. “You’re the one who’s been away! Maybe you have things to tell too?”

That last bit was in a hopeful tone – Elros was as curious about the world as Elrond. It was just that their methods of gaining more knowledge about it differed.

Maedhros judged that a few details about the journey would satisfy Elros enough to make bathtime run smoother without giving Elrond any cause for hurt feelings or his brother grounds for pique.

Besides, the boys wouldn’t be told the most salient point of his journey just yet. That was for the adults.

Elrond met them at the top of the stairs, bearing clean towels for three – so it seemed both boys would be bathing. That meant no worry whatsoever about Elrond feeling left out.

“I saw you coming from the library window,” he explained, “but I thought you wouldn’t like me to go out in the rain when you were coming in anyway. So I got the bath ready.”

“Thoughtful lad,” Maedhros said gratefully. “Come on, let’s get clean so we can have dinner. It’s been a while since lunch.”

Actually, lunch had been rather scant, and eaten hurriedly without stopping.

“Makalaurë says it’s just us tonight – tomorrow is time enough for dinner in the hall.”

Maedhros nodded. He had no particular desire to appear in the great hall that evening – if he did, he’d have to announce the news. He didn’t doubt it would get around fast enough. And it wasn’t as though the boys should be entirely unprepared. But selfish as it might be, he really wanted a quiet evening first.

He’s lived in several places since they came to Beleriand, but Amon Ereb was the closest any of them had ever come to feeling like home. He didn’t know if it was because they’d all lived together here, or if it was the presence of children – and the semblance of normalcy they brought – that did it. Whatever it was, he wanted as many good memories here as he could contrive.

The boys horsed about in the bath slightly less than usual – no doubt on good behavior to show how they’d missed him – and hung on every word he would give them about the journey back until he sent them off to dress for dinner while he got his clothes and managed a quick private conversation with his brother.

Makalaurë had dinner already on the table by the time the boys joined them in the room that served as the family dining room on nights they didn’t eat in the hall. (It had originally been Curvo’s study.)

The boys were fond enough of baked ham to eat up before talking – he couldn’t be sure if it was their Mannish ancestry or not, but they seemed to already be at the age where they could eat three full meals plus anything else they could get their hands on between times.

That gave him time to make a start on his own dinner and still tell a few choice anecdotes from his journey.

But once their forks slowed – only after they’d cleaned their plates twice, Maedhros noted – it was plain the boys had something on their minds.

One of them finally broached it over dessert.

“What are we going to do for your begetting day?” Elrond asked.

The question was directed to his brother, but Maedhros could not help the smile. According to his brother, the twins have been oh so patient for the past few weeks, but with the day all but arrived, they were unable to contain their curiosity any longer.

“I have not thought on it as yet,” Makalaurë replied.

Maedhros gave his brother a look.

That was almost certainly untrue. And if his little brother thought he hadn’t noticed there was a definite pattern to his choices, he was quite mistaken. Kano was nowhere near as subtle as he liked to flatter himself. At least, not to anyone who had known him since the day of his begetting.

“But your begetting day is tomorrow !” Elros protested, aghast that someone could be as indifferent to such a special day, no matter how grown up they might be.

“Elros, no one wants to wear the apple tart, not even your brother,” Maedhros said mildly. “A little less emphatic when gesturing with a loaded fork in hand, if you would be so kind.”

Elros obligingly set the fork down, but continued to look from one cousin to the other expectantly.

“I am sorry, Elros,” Makalaurë said, “but there has been so much on my mind of late that I truly have not thought on it yet. You shall just have to hold out until tomorrow. I’m sure something will come to me.”

Both boys appeared to deflate.

“In the meantime, why don’t you two tell me what you’ve been up to while I was away?” Maedhros suggested, hoping to change the subject.

It wouldn’t help to point out that his absence was partly to blame for Kano having much more than usual to do, but it was doubtless true.

“We learned about the battles in the North, and strategery, and what gets planted when,” Elros said proudly.

“Strategy,” Elrond corrected absently. “And we practiced riding – Roquendil says I’m getting quite good at the gallop.”

“Excellent. And how are you two getting on in your independent studies?”

“I helped reorganize the storerooms!” Elros said excitedly. “There’s much more than I thought on the lower level – you never said!”

“I never said because I didn’t want to give you more incentive to go poking into everything,” Maedhros snorted.

“We only did that once ,” Elros replied airily. “And we know to wash our hands now.”

Maedhros shook his head, but fondly.

“As you say,” Makalaurë chuckled. “Those must have been someone else’s dirty fingerprints on the door this afternoon.”

“I’d just come back from the kitchens, how was I supposed to wash my hands before I touched the door?”

“There are sinks in the kitchens last I checked,” Maedhros said. “Elrond?”

“I’m learning about the different approaches to healing between the Sindar and the Noldor. Lorien sounds like a nice place.”

“It is,” Maedhros agreed. “I hope you’ll get to see it for yourself someday.”

From what he knew of her, he thought Estë would be delighted by Elrond. It was nice to think of Elrond apprenticing with someone who could guide him properly – not just his talent for healing, but also whatever gifts he had from Lúthien and Melian.

Maedhros wasn’t fool enough to think he could train the boy adequately, but he hoped the healers among his followers were enough to at least make a start.

I want to see the woods of Oromë,” Elros announced.

Maedhros stifled a laugh.

“I think you two will get on as well,” he said with as straight a face as he could manage.

Makalaurë was hiding his own laughter behind his wine glass.

“I don’t see what’s funny about that,” Elros grumbled. “I think it sounds grand to be able to ride around without worrying about orcs or dragons.”

“Yes, it would be, wouldn’t it?” Maedhros sighed.

“It was,” Makalaurë agreed. “And that’s given me an idea about what to do for my begetting day. I should like to go somewhere in the countryside nearby and have a picnic.”

Both boys’ eyes lit up, and Maedhros tried not to glare at his brother.

“The weather should turn tonight, or so our weather-wise say. So long as it is nice tomorrow, we can get away with one day among ourselves.”

Maedhros sighed. His chances of nixing this were not good. Not when the twins were always keen for any chance to get out of the fortress to see more of the world and Makalaurë was enabling them.

“So long as the weather is fair,” he grudgingly allowed. “If not, I’m afraid you’ll have to have an indoor picnic.”

Any hope that would rein in anyone’s enthusiasm was in vain – the boys were as excited as if it were a firm promise.  Herding them back to their own room and settling them enough to actually sleep and not whisper back and forth all night was a challenge.

He waited until the boys were definitely in bed – and hopefully even asleep – and he and his brother had retreated to his study.

“A picnic?” he asked, raising one eyebrow.

“All four of us wouldn’t mind the day out,” Makalaurë said, slightly defensively. “It’s one day. Patrols haven’t seen hide nor hair of orcs in any direction, and if we go southeast, there’s little chance of any ambush.”

“It will take more manpower than I like for us to give the boys the illusion that we’re somewhere safe,” Maedhros pointed out, trying not to sigh. “Especially when you haven’t heard the outcome of my visit to Nogrod.”

“You don’t have to say it,” Makalaurë told him quietly. “Your face when you rode up made it plain enough. The boys are young enough to think you were just unhappy at riding in a cold rain, but I’m not. We’re going?”

“As soon as the fortress can be evacuated,” Maedhros replied. “I want everyone packing tomorrow. A warning arrived from Belegost – the Enemy is massing his forces. I’ll speak to our council in the morning. I look forward to Pelendur’s commentary.”

“Cheer up,” Makalaurë sighed. “It may yet rain.”

Maedhros snorted.

“You mean you haven’t noticed yet that it’s always a fine day if we tell the boys there’s the prospect of an outing?”

Makalaurë blinked.

“You mean to say…?”

“I mean that we have two boys who are descendants of a maia on one side, and a line favored by the Lord of the Waters on the other, and it never rains if they have their hearts set on sun.”

“They’re a bit young to be controlling the weather!” Makalaurë protested.

“Consciously, perhaps,” Maedhros said thoughtfully. “But unknowingly, who can say? At any rate, whether it’s them or whether Ulmo’s still looking out for his favorites, I’m quite sure tomorrow will be as fair a day as anyone could possibly wish.”

Later, after his brother had turned in and he had checked the children were sleeping, he stood on the ramparts. The clouds were already clearing, which left him a good view of the new star.

The Silmaril shone as brightly in the skies as it had in Father’s workshop or treasury. Anyone who hadn’t seen it closer might think it was a normal star.

He couldn’t help wondering if the appearance of the star and the Enemy’s movement were connected. Not that he suspected Eärendil of all people of being in league with Morgoth – more that the star was surely meant as a sign, and the fallen Vala wouldn’t have missed it. Whatever plans he had laid were probably being accelerated.

The boys had recognized the Silmaril, too. Elrond said their mother had shown it to them once – but only shown. They had been strictly forbidden to touch the jewel, and she had kept it out of Elros’ reach to be sure.

He recognized, as they weren’t yet able to, what she’d been doing – making sure they knew what it was while keeping them away from the danger of the Oath. Elwing had been damnably clever. He regretted that she was no longer a player in Beleriand. He suspected she’d have made a formidable commander.  

And tomorrow would definitely be good weather.

---

The first light of morning proved him right – it was the finest day he had seen in weeks. One could almost think it summer instead of just late spring, and a soggy, cold spring at that.

Nothing for it but to arrange the outing, then.

Makalaurë had been picking his begetting day celebrations to be things he knew his older brother would enjoy ever since the twins arrived and handed him the excuse. The boys had reluctantly accepted that Maedhros did not celebrate his begetting day any longer – he suspected there had been a tactful conversation out of his hearing – but they would have found it tragic if Kano took the same line.

The boys’ birthday was always celebrated with as much verve and grandeur as could be mustered in the last remaining elven stronghold in Beleriand. But the best of their festivities here would have been sniffed at in Tirion. Insufficient for princes, even minor ones.

Though they were hardly minor here. Aside from Gil-galad (and Galadriel, wherever she might be these days), Eärendil’s sons were the last representatives of the House of Finwë on these shores. And as Lúthien’s great-grandsons, he had a horrible feeling they loomed larger than he would like in the mind of their Enemy.

One more reason to go along with today’s outing. He’d thought on it before he fell asleep last night – with the boys out, their things could be packed far more efficiently than if they were underfoot attempting to help. They’d mean well, no doubt, but while they were able enough at folding their clothes to put them away, they weren’t trained to pack for this sort of move, and certainly not in a hurry.

His staff were not going to be pleased. Come to that, most of Amon Ereb wouldn’t be thrilled about moving. But they’d be less thrilled about dying, so there really wasn’t much choice.

He dispatched a note to the kitchens about the food for their outing as well as the evacuation, and tacked another to Pelendur’s office door.

Then he took himself to his own office, sat down at his desk and waited. (He drew up an outline of what needed to be accomplished today while waiting, of course. But he knew perfectly well it wouldn’t be long.)

The door banged open just as he capped the ink.

“Is this a joke?”

Pelendur looked anything but amused.

“And here I thought Handelon had informed everyone I left my sense of humor in Himring,” Maedhros said.

Pelendur glared at him.

“How would Handelon know? And it’s still not funny.”

“Good to hear, since I’m still not joking,” Maedhros chuckled.

“I wish you had left your bloody awkward sense of humor in Himring,” Pelandur grumbled, dropping into one of the chairs on the other side of the desk. “By the end of the week? What’s the rush?”

“While I was in Nogrod, Prince Kheli shared a warning sent from Belegost. The Enemy is preparing to move.”

Pelendur swore extensively.

“Mind you don’t use those words in front of the boys,” Maedhros reminded him sharply.

That got quite the glare in return.

“We may not be able to clear everything in time.”

“Not unexpected. If I’d realized how short time was running, we’d have made a better show of trade with Nogrod this winter. As it is…”

“Be happy we moved as much as we did in advance?” Pelendur suggested wryly.

“Something like that. We’ll move as much as we can. Anything we can’t take…”

“Of course,” Pelendur nodded. “Though that’s really more Handelon’s lookout than mine. And the fortress?”

“I’ll need a messenger to go to our friends the Ents.”

Pelendur grinned.

“Always a trick up your sleeve, eh?”

“Needing to leave isn’t a surprise. Only the timing.”

“And you’re telling me this at the crack of dawn because?”

“I’ve a picnic to attend today.”

Pelendur blinked at him for a long moment before he groaned.

“You hadn’t told him before he picked his begetting day activity?”

“He knew. He picked it anyway. And it’s not a terrible idea.”

Pelendur glared at him.

“I fail to see how it’s not a terrible idea. You know full well you’re going to need guards.”

Maedhros outlined where he planned to go.

“Fine, so fewer guards than I thought, but still – no matter how much everyone wants to play pretend, you can’t be out there entirely on your own.”

“The dozen or so we’ll need won’t take that much manpower away from evacuation preparations, and should more than make up for how many people we’d need to keep the boys out of trouble if they were here while their rooms are being packed up.”

Pelendur chuckled.

“You mean how many you’d need to keep Elros out of trouble. Elrond could easily be sent to the library and set to packing books. The only problem he’d cause would be not recognizing when it’s time to stop for a rest.”

Maedhros gave him a wry smile.

“Elrond’s more capable of making trouble than you think, and I’m not entirely sure he’d be so calm about having to leave a place he thinks of as home. Best to have them both out of the way for the day.”

“Only the day?” Pelendur asked.

“They’ll be the first to leave. Day after tomorrow – and you and I will both be talking to them tomorrow about how they’re to conduct themselves on the road.”

Pelendur whistled.

“As well Elrond’s finally able to ride at speed, then. He got the hang of it in the nick of time.”

It had occurred to Maedhros before to wonder if it was just luck. Both boys had an uncanny knack of picking up skills just before they were needed.

“Indeed. And I’ll say this now to avoid having it out with an audience later – once we leave here, the boys’ safety is your highest priority at all times.”

“But my prince-”

“That was a command, my old friend. I hope it was not unclear?”

Maedhros was as gentle as he dared be, but he wanted his most loyal retainer to have no confusion on the point. He and his brother were ensnared by both Oath and Doom. Their deaths were inevitable. The boys were untouched by either. Saving them should be possible. If it came to a choice between them, as he suspected it someday would, he needed Pelendur to choose the ones he could still help.

“I-” Pelendur hesitated, looking him in the face. Whatever he saw there must have conveyed the full depth of what was being asked. “Yes, my prince.”

“I thank you, Pelendur. Let me know who to expect – and have them ready to move out just after our usual breakfast hour.”

Pelendur nodded and departed, muttering as he went one of the Sindarin saws about the Wise elves being the biggest fools.

Given how their time in Beleriand had turned out, Maedhros found himself unable to argue.

The few hours until breakfast were taken up with similar meetings as various senior staff members reacted to waking up to find their lives upended. At least this time they’d all had advance notice. The majority of them had arrived in the wake of the Sudden Flame or the Unnumbered Tears. They’d had no warning they’d be running those times.

It was a relief when it was time to change and head off for his brother’s begetting day outing.

He opted for one of his favorite tunics – he liked the blue, and it looked rather more festive than most of his daily use clothing. But at the same time it wasn’t so fancy that he would need to worry about ruining it. Elros had never yet come back from an outing as clean as he started, and others often ended up having to fish him out of whatever mess he found his way into.

The twins had decided to match today – and picked dark tunics, the better to hide mud and dirt. Most would suspect that of being an Elrond plan, but Elros could be surprisingly sensible when he stopped to think.

Makalaurë was wearing one of the few tunics he still had from the Mithrim days – a short, dark green one that set off his looks nicely but wouldn’t interfere with his harp. And apparently he planned on bringing the harp, for the case was sitting next to him.

Maedhros had expected music, after all, it was Kano’s birthday. But he’d thought it would be just singing.

“The kitchens have packed us a lovely picnic lunch, and perhaps even a few snacks,” Makalaurë told them cheerfully.

“And you’ve got some new music to try?” Maedhros asked.

“Of course!”

The boys jumped up and down in excitement. For them, every chance at new music from his brother was an occasion – they didn’t realize that most of what they heard him sing or play was his own work.

The advance guard had already moved out, and the few guards who were obviously riding with them were at the ready.

“You know the drill, boys,” Maedhros said. “If the guards sound an alarm, you are to ride for the fortress at speed immediately. Do not wait for me or Makalaurë. There will be others protecting your retreat.”

“We know,” Elros said cheerfully. “We have been outside before.”

“Yes, but not while both of you were riding on your own,” Maedhros pointed out. “We’re trusting you are old enough and responsible enough to no longer need to ride with one of us.”

It was also good practice for what they’d be doing in just a few days’ time.

“We follow rules when it’s important,” Elrond said, with a significant look at his brother.

“We’re following rules,” Elros repeated cheerfully, with the air he always had after a silent prompt from Elrond.

“Good to hear,” Makalaurë replied. “Mount up, boys.”

Both children scrambled eagerly onto their horses, and they got underway. Elros was proud enough to be riding on his own – and aware of their discreet audience – that he waited until they were past the gatehouse and halfway down the hill before he started his usual chatter.

It was a beautiful day – sunny, summery, with vivid blue skies and fluffy white clouds. If Maedhros could have ordered a day for their last outing here, he couldn’t have picked one finer. The plants and trees seemed to be seizing the reprieve from the foul weather to show off their colors as well, the last few spring flowers set off by vibrant greens wherever the eye turned.

As they headed southeast, their escort dropped back behind them, fanning out, and allowing the illusion that it was just the four of them.

If he didn’t know what else was going on, it would be easy to think this was like so many carefree days in his youth. Riding off into a much safer countryside with Kano and a pair of young cousins excited about the outing. Or a young cousin and a younger brother…

They made for a place Maedhros had been to several times before – a nice little meadow, far enough from the fortress that it didn’t seem to be looming over them, but still in sight in case a quick dash to safety was necessary. It wasn’t noticeable if one faced away, toward Gelion. There was a small copse of trees, and between the trees and the meadow, there were plenty of birds about adding their own song to the pleasant morning.

Makalaurë grinned as the twins looked hopefully to them for permission to dismount.

“Trust you to know the perfect spot,” his brother said. “Yes, boys, you can get down.”

Elros didn’t hesitate for a moment, off like a shot to make the closer acquaintance of several of the birds. Elrond took a moment to get his bearings before leading both his and his brother’s horse to a shaded area under the trees.

Maedhros tried not to chuckle as he took his horse and his brother’s to join the other two. He suspected the older horses watched the younger ones much as the older elves watched the children.

“So,” he said, returning to his little brother. “Did you have anything in particular in mind, Kano? Seeing as it’s your day.”

Makalaurë shrugged, grinning at him.

“Oh, nothing special, just the usual. Eat, drink, sing, dance, frolic.”

“Frolic?”

That would have been ludicrous under normal circumstances, but right now…

“Well, maybe leave that to the boys. You don’t do much frolicking.”

“For someone trained as a performer, little brother, you have a terrible sense of timing.”

Makalaurë gave his harp an experimental strum, more testing the tuning than anything else.

“My timing is impeccable, thank you. If anyone can be accused of bad timing, surely it’s Morgoth. It isn’t as if I changed my begetting day to be awkward.”

“I doubt he planned this as a begetting day surprise for you,” Maedhros snorted.

“No,” Makalaurë said, fiddling with one of the strings. “I rather think the begetting day surprise was planned for you. You may not celebrate it anymore, but it’s not as if I’ve forgotten yours is three weeks after mine.”

It was easy to overlook that his last surviving brother had been High King for a time and a commander in his own right for many years – until he came out with something like that.

Maedhros frowned, calculating. Yes, that would track – they had gained intelligence of the movements only through the dwarves. The Enemy had probably thought that relationship ended with Moryo’s death. They were consequently informed and able to react faster than he expected – but if they hadn’t, he could certainly have taken them by surprise, much as he had with the Sudden Flame, as late as several months from now. Even the next three weeks would have probably succeeded. If it had, it would have ended with them routed and him likely dragged back to Angband. It didn’t bear thinking on how it would have ended for the boys.

“Such cheerful thoughts for what you insisted was to be a happy day,” he said at last.

“Never mind, I’ve got several new pieces to cheer you up,” Makalaurë replied, apparently now satisfied with the tuning of the harp.

His fingers danced over the strings and the song that emerged was one they both knew from childhood. Their mother had been fond of humming it while she worked.

Maedhros wasn’t sure whether to smile or brush away tears he wouldn’t let the boys see for the world and everything in it. He busied himself setting out the picnic instead, and by the time Elros and Elrond came running over to help, he had not only set out the rug but more importantly gotten himself back under control.

If his brother wanted a happy memory, he was damned well going to have it.

“Oh, look, they’ve made that baked cheese thing you like, Elrond.”

“And Makalaurë’s favorite sausages.”

“Never mind the sausages, that’s nothing special. Look at the cakes ! They’ve never given us so many cakes on a day out!”

Probably hadn’t wanted to let them go to waste, Maedhros suspected. He hoped they were being as generous with everyone back at the fortress. Normally on the occasion of one of the princes’ begetting days, there would have been cakes and wine in the great hall at the evening meal. 

“Cakes are for after lunch,” Makalaurë said firmly. “And I already know they’ve packed salad as well, Elros, I collected the food from the kitchens. So it’s no use trying to hide it so you can feed it to the horses later.”

“But they deserve a picnic too,” Elros said, his face the picture of innocence. (And nearly a carbon copy of Turvo when he and Curvo were caught red-handed but trying to brazen it out anyway.)

“The horses are finding their picnic just fine without assistance,” Maedhros chuckled. “And as it’s meant to be a fun day, you needn’t have salad – but you should still set it out for those of us who want it.”

“Oh, fine,” Elros sighed, handing him the container. “Here.”

“All that fuss and it’s actually one of the salads you like,” Kano snorted. “Plenty of carrots and even a generous helping of the late radishes.”

“Radishes?” Elros exclaimed, making a grab for the salad he hadn’t wanted until now.

Maedhros swatted his hand away.

“You’re not picking them all out,” he said firmly. “Everyone else likes them too.”

“Aww,” Elros protested. “Can I have an extra cake to make up for it?”

Elrond was determinedly ignoring the sideshow in favor of surveying what else there was, but the notion of extra cake got his attention.

“Yes,” Makalaurë surprised them both by saying. “In fact, you both can. Now dig in.”

The kitchens had contrived to make sure that there were enough of everyone’s favorite that there wasn’t much talking during lunch. The boys, much as they were enjoying themselves, still had enough sense of it being a special day – specifically someone else’s special day – that they made sure that Makalaurë got first choice on all his favorites. Elros even went so far as to give up a few radishes and eat the salad that went with the radishes without complaint.

When they’d finished, the boys sprawled on the grass pointing out pictures in the clouds, for the moment so stuffed they weren’t ready for cakes.

Maedhros privately thought the things they saw in clouds were much more imaginative than anything he remembered seeing at that age. Then again, he hadn’t known about dragons or balrogs so young.

“Dragon trying to eat the sun!”

“No, don’t be stupid, it’s Handelon taking a bite of an orange.”

“Look at you three, all stuffed to the gills and barely able to move,” Makalaurë laughed. “Which means I have a captive audience!”

He began to play, and the twins fell silent at once to listen.

The first composition was evidently for the harp alone, but the second one had words. Maedhros wasn’t sure what the boys saw, but he saw Valinor, and the golden hues of Laurelin and silvery gleam of Telperion that had lit his youth.

The third one was a merry dance tune, and Maedhros found himself being hauled to his feet to serve as a partner for both boys at once. They twirled and skipped around, Elros grasping his left hand, and Elrond taking a more careful grip on the stump. It was tricky at times to keep his balance, as Elros’ style was considerably more boisterous than Elrond’s.

Maedhros couldn’t be sure, never having seen Lúthien for himself, but if he had to guess, he’d say Elrond’s dancing might well develop into something like hers. Elros… well, if he didn’t know better, he’d guess Ingo and Tyelko had somehow both had a hand in it. He combined intense enthusiasm with somehow managing to make even the most ridiculous steps (which he was mostly making up as he went) look intentional and graceful.

Kano kept the music going long enough that Maedhros wondered if he was waiting to see who would fall down first – him from trying to keep time and also satisfy both boys, or Elros from sheer exhaustion caused by his high energy interpretation. Though he supposed ‘Elrond, from working so hard not to giggle’ was also an outside possibility.

When the song finally wound down, Elros flopped bonelessly onto the picnic rug. Elrond kept his hold, as he sat down next to Maedhros, looking thoughtfully at the old injury.

“It will still be there another day, Elrond,” Maedhros said gently. “It’s not going anywhere.”

He could feel the boy probing gently in thought at it – such a light touch it was barely noticeable. He was also humming just on the edge of hearing.

“But-”

“I’m not going to vanish tonight,” Maedhros assured him drily.

“I know,” Elrond sighed. “I think I can fix it. Not right away. But someday. I want to try, at least.”

“Don’t rush. You’ve a good deal more to study for now,” Maedhros recommended. “There will be time enough for major works like this when you’re grown.”

“That’s a long time from now,” the boy grumbled.

“Not as long as you think, little one,” Maedhros sighed, ruffling his hair.

He fervently hoped the boys wouldn’t look back on this as the last day of their childhoods. They were only twelve...

“Cake, everyone?” Makalaurë prompted them.

“Cake!” Elros answered enthusiastically, perking back up. “How many kinds are there? I want to try them all.”

“I think that should be easy enough to do,” Makalaurë replied with a laugh. “There’s more than enough to go round.”

There were cakes enough that they ended up packing some of them back up to take back when Maedhros finally said it was time to be going.

His brother had that dreamy look on his face that betokened new music. The twins were starting to look like they might have danced themselves out well enough to sleep. It was only pride that had both boys climbing onto their own horses, he knew.

“Was it a good day?” he asked.

He meant the question for his brother, but it got tired but happy agreement from Elros and Elrond.

“It was a very good day,” Makalaurë agreed. “Now let’s hope everyone can stay awake all the way home.”

Maedhros wouldn’t be much bothered if they didn’t. Tomorrow morning would be time enough to explain they were about to ride away from Amon Ereb for good.