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Chapter 14: The Race of Men
Elrond sensed the presence of one of his sons in the room before the tug came on his arm and a small voice informed him, "Ada, Elrohir needs you." He came the rest of the way awake quickly and sat up. Elladan's face reflected sadness, and Elrond became immediately concerned.
"Does Elrohir need help getting to the bath chamber?" he asked, knowing the child was averse to using the chamber pot that had been set near his bed, but that this was unlikely to have caused Elladan to come find him.
Elladan shook his head. "He is in pain, Ada. I heard him crying."
Elrond slipped on a dressing robe and, taking Elladan's hand, he walked to the room the twins shared. He set Elladan on his bed, then lit the small lantern on the bedside table and sat down on the edge of Elrohir's bed.
The small face was tear stained and strands of hair were stuck about his mouth and eyes. Elrohir's arm lay over his eyes and Elrond heard a soft sob. The bedclothes were mussed beyond normal, evidence of his inability to get comfortable. Elrond placed his hand over the still large bump on the child's head and immediately felt the pain that still throbbed there. Elrohir moved his arm and his eyes opened as the pain in his head diminished beneath his father's touch, and Elrond felt his own heart ache at the anguish he saw in the child's expression. He gently brushed the hair from the child's face and caressed his cheek, wiping away the wetness that lingered there.
"Elrohir, does your foot hurt too?" asked Elrond as he pulled the covers back. He heard the sob catch in his son's throat as the child nodded. He examined the splint, noting that the ankle seemed more swollen than it had been before. Carefully removing the pins that held the wraps in place, he freed the ankle from the splint and heard Elrohir whimper in both pain and relief. Elrond looked up as a hand brushed his shoulder, and Celebrían smiled at him as she moved past him and knelt on the floor near the head of the bed.
"Nana!" Elrohir cried, and he wrapped both hands about her neck as she bent to kiss his forehead.
While Celebrían distracted Elrohir, Elrond laid both hands lightly over the injured ankle and closing his eyes, concentrated on the damaged bones and tissues. He kept his face impassive as he finished his examination and ran his hands up the small form, straightening his night tunic and allowing his touch to send comfort and strength to the fledgling spirit. His eyes met Celebrían's, and with a look of understanding she rose to aid him.
"Elrohir, I need to put a new splint on your leg. It will not hurt, but I need supplies from the infirmary," he explained. He gently lifted the child in his arms, and Celebrían placed a pillow between Elrond's arm and the wounded leg. Elrohir snuggled against his father's chest with complete trust and Elrond felt the small body relax.
Trailed by Celebrían and Elladan, they entered the infirmary quietly, as the man injured in the rockslide still resided in a small alcove off the main room. He was not yet well enough to be moved to a private chamber in the house and was tended at all hours by the healers of Imladris.
Elrond laid Elrohir on a comfortably padded examination table and waited until Celebrían had drawn a chair up next to it before moving to his apothecary. He carefully mixed a draught in a strength appropriate for a small elfling and sweetened it to hide the bitter taste.
"This will make you feel better, Elrohir," he said as he handed the cup to the child. He waited while Elrohir drank the contents, the grimace making it clear the child did not like the taste, sweetened or not, but Elrond knew that Elrohir would not protest. He thrived and blossomed under attention from his parents and tended towards compliance in most things, especially when compliance was rewarded by their favor.
Celebrían tenderly stroked his hair and held his hand until he was asleep. With a sigh, she stood and picked up the dozing Elladan from the cushion he'd snuggled into on the floor at her feet and moved to sit with him in a more comfortable chair.
The door opened again and Glorfindel entered. A slight look of dismay crossed his face at seeing Elrohir on the table.
"I saw the lights in the twins' room and here," he explained his presence. He ran a practiced hand over the elfling's injured leg. "This needs to be reset."
Elrond nodded. "I would appreciate your assistance. I was just about to send for you."
The two set to work, gently manipulating the bones back into alignment and healing the swollen and tender tissues around them. They casted the ankle this time, ensuring that the injury would now heal properly. Anor was rising as they finished and Elrond lifted the injured child and carried him to a soft bed in the small alcove next to the one where the man still slept. He propped the casted foot up on a pillow and then rested his hand upon Elrohir's face.
"He will sleep for some time yet," said Elrond to Glorfindel, who was cleaning up supplies. "This cast will be better for a child; for we all know he walks on the foot when we are not looking."
Glorfindel laughed. "It is hard for an elfling to understand that what doesn't hurt at the time will hurt in the future. Delayed consequences are more difficult to learn from."
"In this case, they are impossible for the parent to allow him to learn from them. I cannot bear to see my child in such pain," replied Elrond with a frown. "I should have thought to cast the ankle yesterday."
Glorfindel rolled his eyes and lightly smacked Elrond on the arm as he walked by. "If you want to discuss guilt, I am more than happy to do so, for I could establish arguments showing that mine is far greater than yours."
"I will drug you both into senseless sleep if you even consider continuing this discussion," Celebrían yawned as she approached, a sleeping Elladan in her arms.
Both elf lords had the good grace to blush under her reprimand, and Glorfindel quickly moved to take Elladan from her. He smiled as Elrond protected Elrohir's ankle on all sides with pillows, and then he laid the sleeping Elladan under the covers Elrond held back, next to his twin. The children immediately snuggled together.
"Whenever I see them thus, I am reminded of their first months of life in my womb and then in their cradle," Celebrían mused. "I could feel them within me, twisting and turning together, never apart, and in my ponderings I imagined them cuddled together in each other's arms. After their birth my imaginings were proved true, for do you recall how they nestled together in their cradle? How distressed they were to be taken from each other."
"I recalled how you nursed them together, one at each breast, so as not to separate them," Elrond grinned at the memory. "I would find all three of you sound asleep together, for they were always hungry and as I recall, they exhausted you."
Elrond had moved to stand behind her, one hand covering her belly and his other arm wrapped beneath her breasts. Celebrían laid her head back against his shoulder and sighed contentedly when he began kissing her ear.
"I want to feel new life within my womb and suckle a babe at my breast again," she murmured. "A daughter, perhaps? Will you give me a daughter, meleth-nín?"
"Yes, a daughter," Elrond agreed. "We shall take great delight in conceiving her. What say we practice for several decades while our sons grow, for then when we are ready we shall have our technique perfected?"
"You may wish to practice your technique in the privacy of your own chambers," an amused voice stilled the passions in them both and they quickly pulled apart. "The healers and apprentices begin to arrive," Glorfindel chirped merrily over their shoulders as he grinned and his eyes twinkled at their embarrassed smiles, for they had forgotten he was present.
* * *
Elladan awoke late in the morning. He yawned and stretched and stared at the unfamiliar ceiling for a moment. He felt movement next to him, and the events of the night returned to him as he turned to see Elrohir still deeply sleeping next to him. He crawled to the end of the bed and pushed the pillow aside to look at the hard cast now encircling his brother's foot and lower leg. He cautiously touched it, then knocked softly on it, a look of amazement on his face at the rather hollow sound it made. He looked at the smooth plaster and then at the painted plaster ceiling above him, and grinned in delight at the thought of decorating his brother's foot. He scooted back up the bed and touched Elrohir's face, but his twin did not react.
A slight moan from the main room caught his attention and he slid from the bed. He saw the man lying in his bed in the next alcove and he moved silently forward until he was next to the bed. He could just see a large hairy arm and up higher, a tousle of hair. He reached one finger up to touch the hair on the man's arm. The man made a noise and he jumped back.
"Water, please," he heard the man mumble.
Elladan pulled a stool up next to the bedside table and carefully poured the water into the glass. Then he slid the stool closer to the bed and climbed up on it, then gracefully reached for the glass. He gazed at the man's face and saw the many healing cuts and bruises that still covered the parts of his body that were visible.
The glass had a straw, so Elladan held the glass so that the straw touched the man's lips and he waited patiently while the man drank thirstily of the water.
"Thank you," the man whispered.
The grey eyes slowly opened and focused on him, and Elladan began to scoot away when the man spoke again.
"You are but a child," he said hoarsely. "You are hurt, too, I see. Did you break your arm?"
Elladan nodded and stared at the man. When the man did not speak again, he decided it was impolite not to answer. "My brother and I fell through the rocks above a waterfall," he finally said.
"Rocks fell on me too," the man said with a hint of a smile.
Elladan situated himself more comfortably. "I know," he replied. "We saw them bring you here. You were hurt very badly."
"Is your brother badly hurt?"
Elladan shook his head. "He is not hurt as badly as you, but he is hurt worse than me," he explained. "Ada had to fix his broken ankle last night."
"Did your ada help fix me too?" the man asked thoughtfully.
"Yes," Elladan replied proudly. "My ada is the best healer in all Middle-Earth."
"Then your ada must be Lord Elrond, whom I have heard many things about, but never spoken to. I must thank him." The man grimaced as he shifted slightly on the bed.
Elladan nodded at the man's statement. "He will return to see my brother soon, I am sure, and I will introduce you then."
"What is your name, child?"
"I am Elladan," Elladan answered. "My brother is Elrohir, but he still sleeps and cannot greet you. I greet you though, and welcome you to Imladris."
"Thank you, Master Elladan," the man nodded his head slightly. "I am Albast and I am a soldier of King Valandil."
Elladan's face lit up with excitement. "I knew you were a soldier. There were lots of men here, the ones you were with, but most of them had to leave. King Valandil lived here once, when he was young."
"So I have also heard," Albast replied. "How old are you, Elladan?"
Elladan sat up straight. "I will celebrate my thirteenth begetting day this summer," he said proudly.
Albast stared at him in surprise. "Please take no offense at my question, Master Elladan. We know little of the children of elves. Are you small for your age?" he asked tentatively, wishing not to hurt the child's feelings but wondering if the child was telling a tale.
Elladan's brow furrowed in confusion. "I do not think so," he said after a moment.
"My nephew is five years old. You are the same size as he," Albast said as he rubbed his eyes.
Elladan's mouth fell open in disbelief. "He must have been very large when he was born."
A chuckle from behind interrupted them, and Elladan glanced over his shoulder to see Glorfindel. He motioned the elf over excitedly.
"Glorfindel, this is Albast. He is my friend. He was hurt in the rockslide," Elladan informed him.
Glorfindel smiled at the elfling and then gently grasped the man's hand in his own. "Mae Govannen, Albast. I helped tend you the day you were brought here. I am pleased to see you awake. I hope Elladan has been good company," he said pleasantly.
Albast stared at the tall, glowing, golden-haired elf before him, speechless. He could not meet the eyes of the elf for long and quickly lowered his own eyes even as the melodic voice laughed again.
"Elladan, a tray was brought with breakfast for you, and clean clothing as well. Go eat and dress, and perhaps you may visit your friend after he has rested," Glorfindel said as he set the elfling on his feet.
Elladan waved at the man before Glorfindel put him down and then darted away to fulfill the request of the growl in his belly.
* * *
Glorfindel refilled the man's glass with water and held it up to him. He watched as the man drank the full amount and then rested his head back against the pillows. Already he appeared ready to fall back into sleep.
"The healers will check on you in a little while," Glorfindel said quietly as he rested his hand briefly on the man's forehead. "Rest again. The little elfling will not disturb you."
"I enjoyed his visit," the man murmured, as his eyelids grew heavy. "I hope he returns….feels like home. . . ."
* * *
When the man next awoke, he could hear low voices speaking, although he could not see the bodies the voices belonged to. He heard low laughter and recognized that one of the voices was that of a child.
"Master Albast, it is good to see you awake," a dark haired elf spoke from behind him, then moved to stand next to his bed. He recognized the elf as one who had been tending him, but could not recall his name.
"It is good to be awake," Albast admitted.
"Today I would like to sit you up in that chair," the elf pointed to a nearby chair, "at least for a short time. You have been lying for several days, and it will do you good to sit upright."
Albast nodded and felt the healer's hands assessing his injuries. Bandages were changed and he was bathed by soothing hands that managed to ease the aches of his broken bones and injured tissues as they worked. All the while the elf tended him, he softly sang and the melody nearly lulled the man back into sleep.
"I will lift you now," the elf whispered softly.
To Albast's surprise, the tall but slight figure lifted him with ease and carried him gently to the chair. He settled him into the cushions and covered him with a blanket.
"Today you must eat as well. The cooks have prepared broths and soft foods that will digest easily," the elf explained as a tray seemed to appear from thin air, and then suddenly there was a spoon against his lips and he found himself swallowing the warm broth.
Other elves moved silently about, changing linens and removing used bandages, and Albast found he had to pay attention to their presence or he would forget they were there. Finally, well fed and content, he leaned into the cushion and closed his eyes.
"You may sit for a while longer," the elf whispered in his ear and then was gone.
Albast drifted pleasantly, wondering if he had ever felt so well cared for and deciding he had not. All he had ever heard of Imladris was true, and he would expand upon those stories when he returned home.
"Are you feeling better?" a child's voice interrupted his daydreams.
He opened his eyes to see that the child had returned, only without the splint on his arm.
"I am. You must be as well, for your splint is gone," he replied with a smile.
The small face grinned delightfully. "My ada says elflings do heal quickly."
"How is your brother? Is he also better?"
"Much better," the elfling replied with dancing eyes.
Albast closed his eyes again for a moment, and when he opened them the elfling was watching him closely. He smiled and then frowned as he saw the splint back on the child's arm. The child giggled and Albast rubbed his eyes and massaged his temple, confused. When he looked again he was sure his vision was failing for he saw double. He blinked his eyes open and shut quickly, but two elflings remained.
"You are twins," he groaned as they giggled and laughed. He looked at the twin without the splinted arm. "You are Master Elrohir?"
Elrohir laughed again. "I am." The child pulled the blanket that they had taken turns hiding under off his leg to show his cast. "I have the broken foot."
"Forgive me for saying this, my little friends, but I am glad you have different injuries, for at least I can tell you apart!" Albast grinned. He felt a light touch on his arm and saw the small but long finger gently feeling the hair on his arm.
"Why do you have hair on your arms and your face?" Elrohir asked curiously.
"All grown men do, to varying degrees," Albast explained. "Why are you so small?"
"All elves of our age are this size," Elrohir answered seriously. "My brother says you have large children."
A slight cough interrupted the conversation and Albast saw the small faces light up with delight.
"Ada! We are talking with Albast. He says all men have hair on their arms and their children really are that big!" the twins spoke as one, each speaking part of the sentences. Albast began to laugh as he listened for he could not tell which one was talking except by looking to see whose mouth was moving.
"Master Albast, I am Elrond, father of these children. I hope they are not disturbing your rest."
Albast turned to meet a dark-haired elf who was a larger image of the two children sitting before him. He was struck by the kindness in the face, and particularly the eyes, of this adult elf. He did not glow as brightly as the golden elf he had seen earlier and while it was difficult to meet his eyes for long, the intensity was less than that of the one the child had called Glorfindel.
"Lord Elrond," Albast bowed his head to the elf. "Please accept my sincerest gratitude for the care you and your people have shown me."
"Your recovery is our most fervent wish for you," Elrond replied kindly.
"Your sons are most delightful, my lord. I have enjoyed their company," Albast said as he smiled at the elflings now attached to their father.
"They have looked forward to meeting you," Elrond said as he looked at his sons. "They are most anxious to learn about men, and I must apologize in advance if they overwhelm you with questions or ask something considered inappropriate by your customs."
"They shall stimulate my recovery, I am sure," Albast laughed as he felt small hands slip into his.
Elrond stood. "I shall return in one hour. If they tire you before that, please send Elladan for me."
Albast watched as happy faces met his and inquisitive minds prepared to inundate him.
"Where do you live? Do you fight orcs? Can we visit you? Tell us about your nephew….."
Albast laughed again as he began the first of many hours he would spend in the delightful company of the family who cared for him.
* * *
"Ada, did you know that human children grow faster than we do?" Elladan asked his father, his expression quite serious.
Elrond covered his smile with his napkin and passed the dinner rolls to Erestor before answering. "I did know that," he answered. "Mortals age much faster than elves do. When you reach your majority, humans of the same age will already have married and had their children. Their oldest children will be nearly ready to marry."
Elrohir stared at his father in disbelief. "But. . . Ada . . . that is . . .incomprehensible," he sputtered.
Glorfindel dropped his napkin and Celeborn aided him in retrieving it, while Erestor choked on his bread and Celebrían occupied herself by pounding on his back. Galadriel maintained her usual serene expression, although her eyes were twinkling. Elrond pinched his own arm to ensure that he did not laugh out loud.
"It is incomprehensible," he agreed, "when you first hear of it." As he repeated Elrohir's new word a few snickers were heard around the table.
"So if we went to visit Albast, his people would think we were only five years old?" Elladan asked indignantly.
"Only when they first saw you," Celeborn said seriously but with mirth dancing in his eyes. "However, once they had spoken with you they would realize you were much older."
"They would just think there was something wrong with us," Elrohir rolled his eyes. "That we were of abbreviated height."
This was too much for Glorfindel. He roared with laughter, despite the expressionless looks he received from the twins, who had no idea why the adults were laughing. "Elrohir, has Istuion been teaching you new words?"
Elrohir nodded as he watched all the adults laugh. He blushed. "Am I using them wrong in sentences?" he asked as he sank a little in his chair.
Elladan slipped his arm through his brother's and sat up to his full height, ready to battle the Balrog slayer or anyone else who would tease his brother.
Glorfindel was sitting on the other side of Elrohir, and he immediately pushed his chair back and pulled Elrohir into his lap, cushion supporting his leg and all. "No, tithen golwen," he soothed the child. "You are using the words so well that we are impressed with your knowledge. Such big words from one so little is amusing. You made us laugh."
Elrohir immediately forgave Glorfindel and smiled at him to show it. Elladan still glared at the big elf, and Celeborn found that amusing. He kicked Glorfindel under the table and nodded towards Elladan.
"I am sorry, Elladan," Glorfindel said contritely. "I did not mean to tease Elrohir. Please forgive me."
Elladan glared at Glorfindel one last time, but seeing Elrohir smiling contentedly in the big elf's arms dissipated his anger pretty quickly. He looked up to see his ada watching him and sighed. "I forgive you, Glorfindel. I know you were not teasing Elrohir."
Elrond stood. "Elrohir, I will bring some medicine to you to make sure your foot does not hurt during the night. You had a long night last night, so you need to go to bed early tonight."
Elladan's face fell. "Ada, can we not go to the Hall of Fire again tonight? The minstrels said they would sing our song again," he said, crestfallen.
"Not this night, Elladan. There will be plenty of other nights for them to sing your song to you," Elrond replied gently.
"Come," Celeborn said as he stood, motioning for Elladan to join him. "I will tell you a bedtime story about another elfling who used big words."
* * *
Celeborn settled himself comfortably at the head of Elrohir's bed and waited patiently while his daughter bathed and dressed the twins in their night clothing. Elladan raced to the bed and jumped on it, bouncing a few times before plopping down next to his grandfather. Celebrían carried Elrohir to him and set the child gently in his arms, and he watched as the elfling yawned and snuggled up to him.
"Are you able to stay awake for the story?" he tickled his grandson under the chin.
"Yes, Daerada. I will be listening even if my eyes are closed," Elrohir yawned again.
Elrond entered and set the glass of medicine on the bedside table. "He can take it after the story," he said, bemused.
"Well, then, let us start," Celeborn said with a smile. "Elrond and Elros moved in with Círdan and Gil-Galad in their big house on the Isle of Balar. . . "
~ ~ ~* * *~ ~ ~
Gil-Galad saw the blur of small child rush down the hall, away from the chambers assigned to him and away from those who wished to put him to bed.
"Elros! Daro!" he commanded. The child did not stop, and with an exaggerated sigh Gil-Galad pursued him down the corridor. "Does he not realize I am his king? He is most disrespectful," he muttered under his breath.
He rounded the corner, sliding on the polished hardwood floors in his stocking feet, and as he slowed he noticed a few strands of silky black hair hanging over the small crossbar of the framework of a wooden bench in the hallway.
"That child is incorrigible," he sighed, speaking aloud. He sat down on the bench, stretching his long legs straight out in front of him. "I do not know what I shall do with him. If Círdan finds out about this latest misbehavior, I think the elfling might end up confined to his room and unable to sail with us tomorrow." Gil-Galad smiled as he heard the thump of a small head hitting the bottom of the bench seat and a low muttered 'ouch'. "Ah, the sea! There is nothing like riding the waves in a glorious white ship, the sails let out full and catching the western breezes, the spray of the water and the wind in your hair. . . alas, he shall miss it all."
Gil-Galad leaned his head back against the wall and mostly closed his eyes. Soon, he heard a slight scuffling noise, and a worried small face appeared near his knee. He bit his lip to keep from laughing as Elros watched him cautiously for a moment. The child then stood and began to back slowly away, his eyes fixed on Gil-Galad until he reached the corner. Then he turned and fled.
With a gleeful laugh, Gil-Galad slapped his hand on his thigh and jumped to his feet. He raced to the end of the hall, then slid around the corner. . . and came face to face with a long white beard. He launched himself backward to avoid a collision, landing hard on his backside with a groan.
"Ereinion!" Círdan growled. "Will you ever give up sliding on polished floors? One would think you were the elfling. A fine example you are to them," he grumbled.
Gil-Galad threw back his head and laughed merrily. A twinkle appeared in the shipwright's eyes. "Aye, Círdan, a bad example, but did he not return to his room?"
Círdan laughed as he held a hand out to the elf reclining on the floor. "Aye, he did. So that makes you a fine example for teaching bribery."
Gil-Galad stood and straightened his clothing. "I learned from the master."
The grumbled retort was unfit for small ears and Gil-Galad roared with laughter. "He is merely excited for tomorrow. They have been here for a month and all he talks about is going sailing. You spurred it on yourself when you let him sit with you when we brought them to Balar," he replied.
Círdan scowled. "Elrond has covered his bed with books about ships. Go read to him."
Gil-Galad bowed with a flourish. "Yes, my Lord," he said cheekily and quickly moved off down the hall, chuckling in mirth, as Círdan growled and swatted at him.
He reached the room that had been given to the twins, located next to him and not far from the housekeeper. Círdan's room was on the opposite side of the house, and the old elf claimed that he had wiped enough noses raising Ereinion and was entitled to the peace and quiet. Gil-Galad accepted the decision without argument for he knew the old elf checked on the children several times a day. Where else did all the books on Elrond's bed come from, but the old mariner himself?
Gil-Galad stuck his head in the room and a tender smile crossed his face as he saw the twins lying together on Elrond's bed. They were both on their stomachs, the book open before them, and Elrond was carefully reading words to Elros, his small finger pointing at different places on the page.
"This is a schooner," Elrond carefully sounded out the word and pointed at a ship on the page. "These are its sails and this is a mast." He paused for a moment and then pointed at the next page. "Círdan says this is a sex-tant and you use it to navigate the ship, Elros. You will have to do that."
"How?" Elros demanded. "How does it work?"
Gil-Galad could see Elrond's lips moving as he carefully sounded out the words. "You measure between cesti. . . cestial . . celestial bodies." He read further. "Stars. It helps when you guide the ship by the stars."
"Maglor knew the stars," Elros replied as he rolled to his side, resting his back against his brother. From this position he could see out the window.
"Elbereth made the stars and Maglor had met Elbereth," Elrond agreed. "Círdan and Gil-Galad will teach you navigation. You will be a good mariner, Elros."
Elros flipped on to his back and looked up at his brother's face. "You will always come with me. I will build you a ship and sail you wherever you want to go!"
Gil-Galad watched the exchange between the brothers with amusement. He felt a strange longing, a wish that he had had a sibling to share his thoughts with and to comfort him when he was uncertain or scared. He remembered how gruff Círdan had been, and how at first he was scared of the bearded elf. How he had longed for his naneth and adar. How very alone he had felt. He remembered the night he cried in his loneliness, for that was the night he learned the gruff old mariner had a soft heart. Círdan came to him in the night and held him in his arms, without complaints even when he had fallen asleep with his face and hands buried in the old elf's beard. He had awakened to being rocked in strong but gentle arms. Thereafter, when Círdan was grouchy, he had learned to laugh and found that the crusty outer shell was not so tough after all.
"And what kind of ship will you build, Elros?" asked Gil-Galad as he entered the room and sat on the bed with the twins.
Elros sat up and held his arms as far apart as they could reach. "The biggest, with white sails and it will be the greatest ship to sail the seas!"
Gil-Galad laughed in delight at the excitement and grandiose plans of this small child. He pulled Elrond into his lap and set the book up before him. "I remember this book," he said thoughtfully. "I used to sleep with it at night. I read it all the time when I was young."
Elrond tugged on his hand and pointed at a large word on the page. "Read to me?"
"Aye, I will read to you, then you must sleep for sailing is hard work and you must be well rested for tomorrow," Gil-Galad promised.
He felt Elros squirm under his arm and snuggle next to his brother, and the two small children were quiet as he read to them about ships and how they worked and where the sea might take them. When he had finished, Elros was sound asleep in his lap. He picked the child up and tucked him into his own bed. Elrond still looked at the book, and with a smile Gil-Galad slid it under the child's pillow and then tucked Elrond in with it. "Good night, Elrond."
Elrond reached up and touched the face above him. "Good night, Ereinion."
Gil-Galad left triumphant, for it was the first time Elrond had answered him after being bid a good night.
* * *
The morning sun rose early and bright, and the winds were gentle and warm. Elros raced down the trail from the wooden house to the beach, quickly doffing his shoes to run through the cool sand. From this beach he could see the quays of Balar and the ships that were docked there. He shivered in anticipation.
Elros spun on his heel and raced back towards the path that led to the house. He grabbed his shoes on the way and climbed the stone stairs that led to the grassy yard and the back door. He slowed and wiped his feet clean on the grass and then slipped the shoes back on his feet before entering the house.
Círdan gave him amused look. "I am glad they are where I left them."
Elros grinned saucily at him, but was distracted from further comment by the arrival of his brother. Elrond entered with the big book of ships in his arms and walked to Círdan. The bearded elf pushed back his chair and regarded the child with the big, solemn eyes.
"Did you enjoy the book, Elrond?"
"Are you finished with it already?"
Elrond shook his head.
Círdan watched the child for a moment, contemplating what it might take to make the child speak. He raised his hand above his head and stretched slightly, and was surprised when the child flinched and backed a step away from him. He immediately recalled the missive he had received from Celeborn regarding the abuse the twins had suffered at the hands of Maedhros, in particular Elrond. Pity stirred in his heart, and all thought of forcing the child to speak was forgotten. He gently reached for the book and set it on the table, and then pulled the child into his lap. A long-suffering sigh escaped him as small fingers softly stroked the beard.
"You do not need to return the book, child, if you have not finished with it," Círdan told Elrond. He waited and was surprised by the lack of a non-verbal response of joy or thanks, which the child normally readily gave.
"May I take it on the ship?"
Círdan smiled at the sound of that voice, so like to his brother's but so seldom heard unless speaking to his twin. He brushed the child's hair back from his face and nodded. "You may, but you must take care to ensure that it does not get wet. Ereinion will show you how to wrap it in paper and oil cloth to keep moisture from it."
Elrond smiled and leaned against him happily. His nose twitched at the smell of the steaming biscuits the cook placed on the table and he leaned forward to see what other good things the table held.
"Ah, you are hungry. A good breakfast is essential before one sails," Círdan instructed them. He stood and set Elrond on his chair and then moved the book to the safety of the sideboard behind the child. He then returned to his seat and smiled at his own cleverness, for by ensuring the little ones sat at their own plates, he also ensured no sticky fingers in his beard.
"My favorite!" Gil-Galad entered the room with his usual cheer and swung his leg over the back of the chair as he seated himself. "Strawberry jam on biscuits." He looked at each child in turn, Elros nearly giggling under his perusal and Elrond smiling brightly at him. "Círdan, what are they supposed to eat? This is barely enough for me."
The twins had learned that this remark meant they were to eat now, and Elros laughed and grabbed for the basket of biscuits near him and served himself and his brother before passing the steaming bread on. "This is my favorite too," he replied smugly.
"Aye, I see that," Círdan rolled his eyes. "Since Ereinion shares his favorites so readily, he may also share his favorite washcloth and wipe all that butter and jam from your face and hands when you are done."
Círdan served himself of the eggs and meat and began to eat with relish. From the corner of his eye he saw movement from Elrond's seat next to him, and then there was a biscuit slipped on to his plate, buttered and spread with jam, with all the care a five-year old child could muster. He raised his eyes to meet those of the child. Elrond looked at him, concern in his eyes, and when Círdan smiled at him, a warm smile spread across the child's face and he returned to eating his own breakfast.
* * *
Elros raced towards the Alphiel, his eyes wide with anticipation. Sailor elves smiled and called greetings to the child, which he returned readily. Círdan and Gil-Galad followed, greeting their people and talking with some of the fishermen, already returning with the first catch of the morning. Elrond followed last, his eyes taking in the activity on the wharf. Small boats of fisher-elves were coming and going; the smell of fish was in the air as they unloaded their catch and prepared their nets for a second run. As he neared the larger ships, Elrond stopped and sat down on the wharf. He carefully pulled the book from his bag and unwrapped it from the protective covering Gil-Galad had helped him wrap it in. He opened the pages to one showing the large ships, and with a finger marking his place, his eyes moved from the ship to book.
A shadow fell over him and Círdan lowered himself to the planks with a groan. He leaned near to the child and watched the movements of fingers and eyes as Elrond attempted to identify the ships.
"The Alphiel was built after this book was made," Círdan finally said, "so you won't see it in the book. She is of this type, though." He turned the page and pointed to another ship. Grey eyes raised to meet his. "See, look at the sails and the curve of the prow." Círdan traced the lines in the book and then pointed to the Alphiel. He spent the next few minutes pointing out some of the ships in the harbor and then showing Elrond where they were in the book. "Are you ready to go on board now?"
Elrond nodded and carefully closed the book and wrapped it back up in its covering. He slipped it into his bag and got to his feet. Círdan was already on his feet and watched the process with amusement. He looked down at the child standing patiently at his feet, waiting for him to lead the way. He reached down instead and scooped the child up in his arms, hung the bag over his own shoulder and then placed the child atop his shoulders.
"Do you like the view from up there? Can you see the ships better?"
Elrond leaned down to speak in the big elf's ear. "I like it up here."
Though Círdan could not see the child's face, the smile that crossed Gil-Galad's face and Elros' shout of joy as they boarded the ship told him that Elrond truly was enjoying his ride. Elros tugged and pleaded with Gil-Galad until he swung the child up on his shoulders so he could have a similar vantage point.
"Círdan, you have a strange bird perched on your shoulder," came a voice from behind.
"Celeborn!" Círdan turned and greeted the elf. "What news do you bring?"
"Patrols report no movements upon shore except for some of the men of the Edain. Maedhros' forces were trailed for nearly a hundred leagues northward; they do not show plans of returning south. No reports of orcs or dragons from Angband," Celeborn summed up the movements of the troops he still commanded.
Círdan and Gil-Galad knew, as did Celeborn, that Morgoth remained a threat. Círdan knew that the Valar would act against him, that Eärendil had fulfilled his quest and the Valar had promised their aid. He kept an eye ever westward and his ear ever to the sea as he waited for Manwë to act. He did not speak of his thoughts to the others, but counseled defense and restraint as they forged a new community on Balar, integrating the remnant of Sirion's survivors. An interesting mix they had become: Noldor of Gondolin and Nargothrond, and the Sindar of Doriath and the Falas, with green elves and men of the Edain scattered throughout.
"Cousin!" Gil-Galad turned to greet the Lady Galadriel as she boarded. "How do you fare in building?"
"The house progresses well," Galadriel responded, and she gave him the details of the house she and Celeborn were building up the shore from the house Círdan and Gil-Galad shared. "It is a fair day for sailing, Ereinion. Who is this sitting upon your shoulders?"
Elros giggled and kicked his feet against Gil-Galad's chest. "I am Elros and we are going sailing!"
Galadriel lifted the child down from his perch and taking him by the hand, said, "Take me on a tour of the ship, then, young Elros, for I desire to see all of it."
Círdan transferred his small charge to the shoulders of Celeborn, and Elrond watched the docks of Balar disappear from the horizon as Círdan guided the Alphiel out to sea. Once well on their way, Celeborn set Elrond onto the deck and watched as the little one began to explore every nook and cranny of the ship. His thirst to know how everything worked and what its name was, from the parts of the ship to the birds in the air and the fish in the sea, even caused him to speak as he asked question after question.
"Stimulation of his brain and a feeling of safety do much for this little one," Galadriel commented to Círdan and Gil-Galad.
Círdan frowned as he pondered her statement. Gil-Galad gave voice to his thought. "It would be unfair to move them when your house is built."
Círdan merely snorted. "Children adjust."
"Ereinion, look at me!" Elros shouted.
Gil-Galad turned to the sound of the voice and a small gasp escaped him. "Elros! Do not move!" While all the adults stood transfixed at the sight, Círdan held the rudder steady as Gil-Galad climbed the rigging. He reached the small child a few moments later.
"Elros, what are you doing up here?" he scolded as he tugged the child into his arms.
"No, stay here!" Elros pleaded. "Look!"
Gil-Galad followed the child's finger out to the sea in time to see the great tail fin of a whale rise in the air and then plunge into the water. A moment later another whale surfaced and then flipped up its tail fin in the air as it dove back beneath the surface.
"Whales starboard!" Gil-Galad called. He held Elros tightly as Círdan adjusted their course to bring the ship round that all might see them. Elros was wiggling and bouncing in his excitement, calling to his brother and anyone who would listen.
"Elrond, big fish!" he squealed.
Gil-Galad watched in amusement as Elrond tugged on Celeborn's sleeve and pointed at his brother. Celeborn obliged by climbing the rigging with Elrond firmly in his arm and soon they too had a wondrous view of the whales.
They followed the whales for some leagues before Círdan finally turned and headed back towards the shore. Gil-Galad and Celeborn brought their small charges back to the safety of the deck, and laughed when Elros immediately plopped himself down next to Galadriel to tell her all he had seen.
Elrond went back to his nest in the pile of coiled rope and pulled out his book again. He flipped to the end and found the picture he wanted, then carefully carried the book to where Celeborn and Gil-Galad were seated. He stood before them, book in hand, and watched them patiently until they finished what they were talking about and acknowledged his presence. Gil-Galad picked the elfling up and sat him on the bench between them, and looked at the page Elrond had opened to. The child pointed to ships on the sea, and in the background of the picture were the tails of whales flipping in the air. Gil-Galad picked up the book and looked carefully at it and the other pictures on the page.
"Those are whales, Elrond," Gil-Galad confirmed. "You have very good eyes to catch such small detail."
"How long has he had that book?" Celeborn asked.
"One day," Gil-Galad answered matter-of-factly. "I begin to believe the child has it memorized already. I treasured this book when I was young and read it often, and yet could not have told you there was a whale in any of the pictures."
Celeborn looked at the small child gravely. Elrond must have felt eyes upon him, for he turned to look at Celeborn. He met the thoughtful look with a solemn face, then leaned up against Celeborn and pointed at the book and said, "What does this say?"
Celeborn had just begun to read to Elrond when he heard his wife cry out, "Elros!"
Celeborn and Gil-Galad reached Galadriel at the same time. She was half hung over the side of the ship and dangling from her right hand was Elros. Celeborn grasped her about the waist, allowing her free use of both hands, and she slid further over the side to grasp Elros' other hand and gain better purchase on the one she already had.
"Pull us up!" she called.
Celeborn eased her up over the rail and Gil-Galad took Elros from her hands. He pulled the child up close to his chest and embraced him, then pulled back to look the youngster in the eye, preparing to scold him.
Elros smiled at him.
"I wanted to touch the water," he said, a slightly guilty look on his face.
Gil-Galad bowed his head and willed his heart to slow and his breathing to steady. Before he could even speak he felt Círdan at his back and a piece of rope dangling in front of him. He burst out laughing.
Círdan saw the surprised looks on Celeborn's and Galadriel's faces. As he walked past them to resume his duties as captain, he muttered, "Leash." A wicked smile crossed his face. "Ask Ereinion about it. He is much experienced in this matter."
All eyes turned to the still laughing Gil-Galad, who threw up his hands. "This is actually proof in my favor that there is a more incorrigible child than Círdan claims me to have been."
Elros looked at Gil-Galad, bewildered, as the elf fashioned a small harness from cut strips of canvas and then cut a length of rope and tied it to the back. The whole contraption was slipped over his head and he found himself held on a short tether.
"Ereinion, I do not like this. Take it off?"
"No, Elros. This way I know where you are and that you cannot be hurt," Gil-Galad said sternly. "Trust me when I say you will get used to it."
Elros struggled and pulled at the bindings, finally kicking a nearby barrel and then collapsing in sobs on the deck as he held his sore foot. "I do not want this on," he sobbed.
Círdan only chuckled, but Celeborn and Galadriel watched in fascination as the child launched a temper tantrum, a rather rare thing for an elven child. "Do you think it is his human blood?" Celeborn wondered.
Gil-Galad ignored Elros for the most part and only turned back to him when the crying stopped. What he saw made him laugh and wish again that he had had a sibling.
Elrond had moved to sit next to his brother and he had brought his precious book with him. He had also taken a piece of rope and wrapped it around his own middle. The rope was not tied to anything on either end, but the gesture seemed to comfort Elros. The excitement of the day had tired him though, and soon his head was on Elrond's shoulder and he drifted into sleep as Elrond pointed at the pictures and named the things he had learned. Elrond soon drifted off too, and Celeborn hung a tarp to protect them from the sun while Galadriel placed cushions behind their heads.
Círdan smiled at all the adults now happily seated about the ship, watching the scenery and enjoying the beautiful weather.
"Ah," he sighed. "This is how I like children best."
Not surprisingly, no one disagreed.
~ ~ ~* * *~ ~ ~
The laughter subsided in the room and Elrohir yawned through his grin. He patted Celeborn on the arm and spoke through another yawn. "Daerada, you saved us and you saved Ada and Uncle Elros, and then you and Daernaneth saved Uncle Elros again. I think Uncle Elros was an irrepressible elfling."
Elrond quietly laughed as he thought of his brother. "Yes, Elrohir, irrepressible is a great word to describe Elros. Now, drink down this medicine and then you must sleep."
Elrohir swallowed the medicine and closed his eyes as his grandfather tucked him into bed. Elladan was also yawning and hugged his ada tight as he was tucked into his bed.
"Ada? Do you miss your brother?" Elladan asked sleepily.
"Yes, Elladan, I do miss Elros. I think about him every day."
* * * * *
tithen golwen -------------------------little learned one
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