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Elrond frowned. If he had not known better, he might have thought that he had been transported back more than two thousand years – to a time when he had never been entirely sure what pressures parenthood would put on him next.
Someone – Gilraen, he thought incredulously – sounded as exasperated as ever Celebrían had when the twins’ ingenuity had led them to explore boundaries that no-one had ever thought to set.
He rose and headed to the open window. The cool freshness of the spring day stirred the curtains and the watery sun brushed his skin with an illusion of warmth. He looked out over the balcony to scene below and his lips twitched. He had wondered many times whether mothers stood like that – hands on hips and shoulders raised as they leaned towards the object of their wrath – to make themselves look more intimidating – like a bear on its hind legs.
His firstborn moved almost imperceptibly to one side, shielding the creature behind him from view – reminding his father of one memorable occasion when his sons had sought to introduce a wolf cub into his household.
‘But Gilraen…’ Elrohir protested mildly. ‘You said you wanted Estel to play in the mud …’
The Lord of Imladris winced. He doubted that his son would be permitted to get away with such a reckless disregard of maternal sensibilities. It was almost as if Elrohir was being deliberately provocative. Well – the twins would learn through painful experience that a mother could be as dangerous as a dragon in defence of her young – and that the wounds she administered could sting as much as any orc blade.
Elrohir moved his head slightly, his dark hair gleaming like silk in the pale yellow light, and he raised his chin to wink unobtrusively at the tall figure leaning over the balcony.
‘He will clean,’ Elladan assured the anxious mother. ‘It is only honest dirt.’
The – mud-monster – behind his son chose this moment to emerge from shelter, clearly failing to recognise the signs of danger. Well, Elrond thought with a wave of intense amusement, he was young yet – the boy would learn.
‘Nana!’ the child said excitedly. ‘Baby frogs!’ He hauled with him what must have been one of the largest cooking pots ever filched from Imladris’s kitchens. Yet another group of females who would be seeking blood, Elrond decided ruefully – if he remembered the pleasures of raising sons correctly. A wave of water splashed over the rim and the child looked panicked as some of his frogspawn escaped.
‘No matter,’ Elrohir swooped to the rescue, scraping up the slimy mess efficiently in his larger hands and returning it to the pot. ‘They will come to no harm, Estel. The water will clean the eggs off – and see? The little tadpoles are still swimming safely in their protection.’
‘Tadpoles?’ Gilraen’s ire seemed strangely deflated – and she looked almost uneasy. Could it be that this daughter of the Dúnedain had not yet become inured to the sheer quantity of unsavoury detritus that tended to accompany growing sons? Elrond looked at her with sympathy. Such innocence would not last much longer.
‘Can we keep them, Nana?’
Even from the balcony, Elrond could see the sparkle in the child’s eyes – and the pleading on his face. He doubted that Gilraen had the experience – yet – to resist the child’s enthusiasm.
‘They would prefer to live in the pond,’ Elladan intervened – and the relief on Gilraen’s face made Elrond’s shoulders shake. ‘If we put them in Adar’s fountain, they will be safe enough – and we can watch them grow.’
Elrond thought he could accept that. Better by far to have frogs in the courtyard than to have them leaping around inside the house. It would seem that his sons had learned something over their turbulent youth.
‘We will bathe him, Gilraen,’ Elrohir promised. ‘And get the frogspawn out of his hair – and return him clean and undamaged.’
Estel gazed up at the tall elf, beaming his contentment at being in their company, and Gilraen’s face twisted. ‘See that you do,’ she declared – and whipped round, retreating before her son could notice her distress.
Elrond withdrew quietly, leaving his sons to deal with the child and the tadpoles – and the general indignation that would doubtless ripple from the adventure. It had been a long time since he had seen such total trust and confidence in the faces of his sons. A long time since they had believed that he could set all wrongs right with no more than a word. A long time since he had seen them look at anyone the way they had looked at Estel. He had seen them protective – he had seen them watchful – but it had been long centuries – five of them – since he had seen them playful. It would be worth an invasion or two of frogs to see the light of mischief shine in their faces again.
He sat rather heavily in the carved chair behind his desk and rubbed his hands over the time-smoothed figures that his wife had chosen to form the arm-rests. He missed her still, as intensely as he had on the day her spirit had retreated to safety – as intensely as he had when she had set foot on the ship – and he would miss her until at last they could be reunited. Elrond closed his eyes. If the presence of this … this small descendant of his brother’s line could free the child within his sons and allow them to become themselves again, he knew Celebrían would be grateful – whatever else came of it.
A smile tugged at the elf lord’s lips. Frogs! Whatever would it be next? It would seem that the tranquil elegance of life in Imladris was about to be stirred as it had not been in far too long. He only hoped they were all ready for the change.
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