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The twins spent many more months in the forests, hunting, catching animals, trading small wooden carvings and furs for other food and clothes. They eventually left the forests of south Region and headed north for a while, sometimes taking casual work here and there in villages of the Edain. They helped to rid areas of poachers and once were recruited to track down and kill an elderly bear which had turned on a village, too sick to hunt for itself. When the twins located the bear they found themselves almost pitying its condition; it truly was ill, limping on an injured paw and clearly in pain from a septic arrow-wound in its haunch. It seemed a small mercy to kill it cleanly; they left the head with the celebrating villagers even though the chieftain offered it to them as a trophy.
They seldom stayed in any place for long, knowing now from experience that their relationship would not be regarded kindly by most. Some days, still, Eluréd was short and irritable with his brother; other days he was quiet and withdrawn. But the nightmares grew less and less frequent, less troubling, and he no longer slept with a frown on his face. Elurín even found himself being rather spoiled at times, when Eluréd brought back fish and game, or even managed to trade for cake or sweet bread - which he knew his brother loved - or new blankets. When Elurín injured his hand after a bowstring snapped at full draw, Eluréd insisted on taking over *all* of the work, in spite of the younger twin’s protests.
Eluréd returned with a rather swollen black eye one day, which caused Elurín to show considerable concern. “Eluréd?” he asked, coming to examine his brother for other injuries. “Tell me what happened.”
Eluréd seemed remarkable sanguine about his battered state and presented Elurín with new bowstrings, sturdy leather bracers and a bottle of something Elurín presumed to be alcoholic.
“Eluréd?” As delighted as he was with these acquisitions - the bracers, especially, were of very fine make - he was not going to let his brother get away without some kind of explanation.
“Elurín, there is nothing to worry about. It looks worse than it really is.”
It was evident that nagging would not get anywhere, so Elurín tried another approach. Pulling Eluréd into his lap, he kissed his brother’s temple by the darkening bruise. “Did someone hurt my devoted and beautiful brother?”
“Really, Elurín, all is well. The worm who was supposed to be selling me the bowstrings and bracers tried to cheat me. So I punched him, and relieved him of the bottle as well, for good measure. You will have to help me sample it, see if it was worth an extra bruised knuckle.”
“You got into a fight, then?” Elurín asked, allowing half-serious disapproval to tinge his voice.
“Well…he did punch me back. Repeatedly. But Elurín, love, you do not have to see it in quite that way.” Eluréd turned and looked reassuringly and a little playfully at his twin. “He was trying to take the furs we had put all that effort into catching and preparing, and was not intending to give me my goods in return. We will appreciate these things far more than he would have.” Eluréd’s confidence in this logic sounded absolute and Elurín could not help but smile.
“I suppose you are right - and it may be interesting to find out what is in that bottle…”
Eluréd woke with his brother’s head resting on his shoulder, two blankets thrown hastily over them for warmth. His head throbbed painfully, his mouth was dry, he was tired, drowsy and mildly nauseous - it had not tasted like wine in that bottle, that was for sure, and it had certainly been far stronger than any wine Eluréd had ever come across - but the sense of contentment and rightness he felt right now was enough that he did not even care.
Elurín’s expression was relaxed as he slept, his hair pulled free of its haphazard braids in their passion last night, forming a soft, dark mane to frame his sweet face. Eluréd lifted a hand to run his fingertips down the edge of one ear, causing the younger twin to sigh and shiver very slightly. He looked so innocent when sleeping, so vulnerable, one hand reaching across Eluréd’s chest to tangle in his hair. Awareness returned to Elurín’s features slowly and he gave his brother a wan little smile.
“Sore head?” Eluréd asked, keeping his voice soft.
Elurín nodded, closing his eyes.
But there was no need for them to move, no shouts of Elves readying themselves for another day of battle. If they wanted to rest, there was no reason in all of Arda why they should not spend the entire day just relaxing in one another’s arms. Consequently, the sun was almost directly overhead before Eluréd finally stirred to fetch water for them both.
“I was thinking of moving on again soon,” Eluréd suggested quietly as he watched the discomfort in Elurín’s features start to fade. “Not today,” he added hastily before his twin had chance to pout, “or even tomorrow - in a few days, whenever you are ready.”
Elurín absorbed this and nodded. “Where to? You talk as if you have somewhere specific in mind.”
“As I was coming back yesterday,” Eluréd began, “I realised how clear the day was and how far into the distance I could see. I noticed…the hills. Mountains, in the distance.”
Elurín smiled. “I have seen them too. I always wondered what it might be like to stand at the peak of a mountain and look down over the land…”
Tilting his head up slowly, Eluréd kissed his brother. “Now we can. They are close; we could reach them in a few days if we keep moving, and Morgoth’s armies are unlikely to care much for such lonely places.”
Elurín’s reply was another nod. “And then maybe I will find out why, from a distance, mountains seem to be purple…”
Eluréd’s soft laugh took them both by surprise. “I think I would like to learn that, too…”
Elurín made a little posy out of the purple flowers which grew on rough, spiky stems, and admired it. “Well, now we know,” he remarked in wonder. The flowers had no scent, but when he shook the bunch, they made a soft, rustly rattling noise that fascinated and amused him.
Eluréd had a wicked gleam in his eye and a moment later, leapt suddenly at his brother and knocked them both into the carpet of young heather. It was a nice surface to land on, springy and cushioning. Elurín squeaked in protest. “You made me drop my posy!”
“Elurín, you are lying on a hillside of the stuff! You could make a thousand more posies and it would not even dent the scenery!” Eluréd teased him playfully and they wrestled, till both twins were out of breath and had twigs and fragments of heather caught up in their hair.
“I suppose you are right,” Elurín eventually conceded with a smirk. He picked a new posy and pushed it underneath one of Eluréd’s rough braids. “It suits you. Wild and beautiful.”
“Me or the flowers?” Eluréd asked with a warm smile.
“Both,” Elurín replied, kissing his twin. “Though I would still choose one of you over a hundred acres of the flowers.”
“Good,” said Eluréd, arms sliding around his brother slowly, “because when you finally tire of the mountains, it will be me, and not the hillside of flowers, which will leave here with you.”
Elurín turned his head to capture his brother’s lips once more. “I wonder why the hillside over there is almost pinkish-red…”
His reply was a fond laugh from Eluréd and a declaration that there was but one way to find out. The two Elves ascended hand in hand, both of them easily fit enough that the climb was bracing but not especially taxing. The temperature dropped gradually with the altitude, which was far from unwelcome as the refreshing exercise brought a flush to their cheeks.
Elurín’s face lit with a grin as they reached the higher slopes of pinkish-red. “Berries!” he proclaimed. They certainly looked edible enough, but memories cautioned him. In one of the earlier winters after they had been lost, when food had been so hard to come by, Eluréd had blithely made the same assumption about some other berries. Four days of nausea, excruciating stomach pains and even a mild seizure had followed, leaving Elurín terrified for his brother and determined not to let such a mistake be made again. However, Eluréd was pointing, and though his brow was creased with a frown, amusement sparkled in his eyes. Elurín followed the line of his arm and saw two children of Men on a far slope. His keen eyes picked out faces stained with purplish-pink juice and it was clear that they picked and ate the berries in impressive quantities.
The twins exchanged smiles and reached for the ripe fruit, popping berries into their mouths. Perhaps not as sweet as late summer blackberries, but nonetheless rather delicious; the juice ran over their fingers and lips, turning their tongues the same colour as those children’s faces.
They ate their fill and kissed one another’s purplish lips, still smiling, before gathering up some more of these truly delightful treats for later.
“I think I like your mountains,” Elurín announced as they ascended further.
Eluréd smiled in reply. “I am glad you agreed to come here with me.” It was windy towards the peak and whipped their already wild hair into truly impossibly tangled mats around their faces, but right now neither cared in the slightest. Both twins just took delight in the freedom, the endless views over field, moorland and ancient wildwood.
“The whole world before us,” Elurín murmured as he looked out.
“Ours to roam and explore for all eternity, if we wish.” Eluréd, perched on a rock, looked more content and at peace than his brother could ever remember seeing. There was a softness, a freedom from worry, that brought a sparkle to his eyes and a smile to his lips. Elurín decided privately that, whatever the outcome of the war, he knew he would survive it, somehow, so long as he could hold out hope of seeing Eluréd like this again when it was all over. When they were together, it seemed, nothing was too dark to break them both; and if one struggled onward, the other would find a way too.
However, it seemed that good things were never destined to last. The weeks turned into months, and the twins thought they had been given a temporary respite from horror; but then they chose to head north once again. In their misfortune, they crossed a mountain pass into what was once Dorthonion - but it was nothing like the maps they had glanced when they fought alongside Celeborn, and even less like the stories the Nandor had told them.
“The hills should not be like this!” Eluréd fumed after the third day of trying to find his bearing amongst the highlands. They had never been this far north before, but in the past they had wandered the valleys below and thus learned the pattern of peaks and valleys from afar. Elurín was forced to agree with his brother; their memories, coupled with the other information they had about the region, all confirmed that a chilling and dramatic change had taken place here. Some of the hills looked as if huge chunks had been bitten from them, and the rivers ran - if they ran at all - down channels that looked to have been seared from the earth.
Eluréd gave up, sitting down on the grass and beckoning to Elurín, wrapping arms around the younger twin’s waist as Elurín sat down and leaned against him. “I am sorry for my poor navigation,” he said, his voice sounding almost ashamed. “But it will not take long to relearn the lay of the land, and then I will take you anywhere in the world that you can name.”
Elurín snuggled a bit more. “Menegroth, again,” he suggested longingly. “I would like to see how it is doing.”
It seemed, thought, that their fate was not to see Menegroth again this time. On the way back towards the outskirts of Doriath, the twins followed a river through more ruined lands and came upon the first traces of more major battles. Fallen trees - some ripped up by their roots - and the odd corpse of a retreating soldier who had been shot down; both Orcish and Elven.
The sights grew even clearer the further they progressed; swathes of grassland charred by Balrogs’ whips and mounds of decomposing bodies, the stench so foul that they knew what they approached from miles away when they approached from downwind.
In spite of this, Eluréd still insisted on taking a closer look, examining the bruises and bloodied faces of Elves - some of whom they recognised as former comrades, battered almost beyond the point of looking like Elves but still bearing enough familiarity that both of them could assign names to some of the fallen.
At one point, they had both frozen, breath hitching in their throats at one of the faces. It had taken them a good minute after that to establish that the Elf beneath the mask of rancid, congealed blood was not Celeborn, in spite of the halo of matted silver hair surrounding it. They wondered if perhaps the Elf was a kinsman, nonetheless, and it truly hit home then that they had no guarantee that any of their companions from the fighting still lived.
They found Nandor too; some of the mutilated bodies were strung up among the trees those gentle Elves had once called home. It grieved Eluréd and Elurín greatly to witness such atrocities: the Nandor had never wanted anything more than a simple, peaceful life amongst the forests they loved. That they had been dragged into what was essentially a Noldorin war and given their lives for the cause felt horribly unjust.
The battlefield stretched onwards impossibly far; it was hard to believe so many former fighters could ever have been gathered in one place. Some lay on their stomachs at the edges, a trail of blood over the grass showing how they had tried to crawl for safety but never reached it. Carrion birds were circling and landing on the fallen Elves’ bodies; even they would not sully themselves with the flesh of Orcs.
“There are too many to even try build pyres,” Elurín remarked brokenly. “Too many to bury, even in a mass grave...”
Eluréd did not argue. “We will leave a memorial,” was his quiet suggestion. “It is all we can do here - a token to show that their sacrifice was not forgotten.” He threw stones at the crows before shaking his head. “Anything we do seems so futile...”
Elurín observed his brother’s black moods starting to return, and found himself having to remind Eluréd to eat some evenings. “I have no appetite,” Eluréd retorted for the second time that day. “We are safe, and miles from the battles whilst our kin and friends are dying.” It was a far cry from Eluréd’s first reaction to the war, the remarks that it was no business of theirs; but Elurín, too, felt the pain far closer now that they knew who else was out there, risking and often laying down their lives for this cause. “It was selfish of me to leave them…”
Elurín bit back the first reply that came to mind: the reminder that it had been him and not Eluréd who had made them leave in the first place. He did not think it would ease his twins’ conscience. “I do not believe they would blame us for leaving,” he stated simply. “I think Celeborn saw how it was destroying you.”
Eluréd forced down a few mouthfuls of food, then shook his head. “They would say they held nothing against me, but in their hearts they undoubtedly regard us as self-centred cowards. Elurín, what you choose to do is a matter for your own heart, but mine is telling me to go back to the war.”
The younger twin closed his eyes, having suspected it would come to this from the moment Eluréd’s musings had drifted towards the others. His stomach churned at the very thought of returning to that life of mud, darkness and hopelessness; but he reminded himself that however much he had hated it, Eluréd had hated it more, and was still going back. “I will not leave you, brother - even if you were intending to walk into Morgoth’s own fortress. You know that.”
Eluréd’s kiss was tender and grateful. “I do know it. I promise to do anything I can to make this mess easier on you.”