View/download TXT file

Chapter 3

The whine of a bowstring sang through the forest, followed by a dull thunk and the shriek of a hind. The brothers whooped in joy at the successful, easy kill. Elurín dropped immediately out of a nearby tree and ran over to investigate their prize; Eluréd followed more cautiously, landing carefully so as not to jar his weak ankle. It had been - how many winters now? - and still he was noticeably lame on that foot. At least it had healed well enough that he was no longer a useless burden on his brother; it had, in fact, been Eluréd's arrow which had taken down then deer.

He ran his fingers lovingly over the bow in his hand. It was his pride and joy, his own work. He'd spent weeks whittling away at well-dried yew strips, then cursing as the wood split, patiently casting the broken pieces aside and beginning anew with a fresh strip. It had been Elurín who had persuaded him to try his hand at bow-making, and so he had given his first finished product to his younger brother. The bow Eluréd carried now was his second. Since then, he had made half a dozen more, decorating them with elegantly engraved Cirth. Elurín kept nagging him to sell them at one of the villages on the edge of the forest, and, to tell the truth, he was starting to see the benefits in doing so. He had sold other items before, but was still unsure of the quality of his bows.

He looked down at his rather shabby clothes and scuffed boots. They now had a long-standing silent agreement with Orlin. They left kills, fruits and miscellaneous articles of Eluréd's own crafting at a particular place in the forest, and in return they received bread, cast-off clothes, and once or twice even sweet, rich cake.

Elurín squatted beside the deer, already getting to work with skinning and cleaning it. They had both been preparing kills for enough years that now the process was quick, efficient and conducted with a kind of professional lack of emotion. In a way, Eluréd mused, this was sad; they were attuned to the forest, but it no longer pained their conscience to lay claim to some of its goods. It was survival.

He joined his brother, cutting the meat into pieces which could be carried with ease. They would hang up what they didn't need immediately and smoke it to preserve it. It wasn't far back to their talan - for a talan it now was. They had spent every spare moment of their first summer building the small but cosy flet which kept out the weather and the more curious inhabitants of Doriath.

They strung the chunks of carcass over their shoulders and set off. Elurín was whistling in a perfect imitation of a robin; Eluréd smiled to himself and joined in as a winter wren. Elurín always accused his brother of being terribly serious for much of the time, claiming that Eluréd needed to learn to relax for a change. Now, seeing that his brother appeared more cheerful, the younger twin grinned. "I was thinking," he mused.

"That would be a first," Eluréd replied teasingly.

"I was *thinking*," Elurín continued emphatically, swatting his brother, "that we could use a break from our daily struggle to survive each day as it comes in this dark and dangerous forest. And you, my brother, need to get out and talk to someone other than me for a change."

"And you don't?"

"Of course I do. That's why I'm coming too."

"Coming where?" Eluréd looked sceptical.

"To the village beside the river."

"The one just to the north of here?" Eluréd had visited it once or twice to sell game they had hunted or various items the twins had made.

"Of course, brother. Is there another?"

"Elurín, please, no. Just no."

***

Eluréd knew that this was a mistake from the moment he stepped over the threshold. His feet decided to co-operate and he tripped, falling flat on his face just inside the inn's doorway. There was considerable laughter, and Eluréd picked himself up with a scowl darkening his face. "Brother, are you sure this is a good idea?"

The question was rhetorical, so Elurín merely laughed and shook his head, threading his way through the tables of people to the counter, at which several dirty but cheerful-looking men were sitting with large tankards of lukewarm ale. They looked at the twins, with their long, unkempt hair (which fortunately fell over their pointed ears) and worn clothing. Elurín perched himself on a three-legged stool and ordered ale for them both.

A Man nearby let out a long, low burp, and Eluréd regarded him warily. He'd never tried ale before in his life, and was not entirely convinced that now was the time to start. He leaned across and said so to his brother. "Do not worry, Eluréd," the younger twin answered with a smile. "You will find that most of these places water their ale quite heavily."

Eluréd began to worry what his twin had really been doing on those two- or three-day 'hunting expeditions'.

A pretty, plump barmaid brought them their drinks, leaning far further over the twins' table than was necessary to place the tankards down on the wooden surface, and thereby allowing the Elves quite a marvellous view of her not insubstantial cleavage. Elurín thanked her profusely for the drinks, and gave her bottom a cheeky pinch as she left.

Eluréd was now definitely concerned about his brother's 'hunting expeditions'.

The younger twin seemed to be enjoying himself, talking animatedly to other patrons. Eluréd was more reserved; he didn't trust the strangers, he didn't know them, and to tell the truth, he couldn't think of much to talk about. He pulled chunks off the bread that the barmaid had provided in a little basket, chewing slowly but not really tasting it.

"Cheer up!" Elurín laughed, slapping his brother on the back. Eluréd noticed with consternation that his brother was well into his second mug of ale. "I think you need some company to persuade you to lighten up." He grabbed a giggling girl by the wrist and pulled her flirtatiously on to Eluréd's lap; she licked her lips saucily at him and fluttered her long, dark eyelashes.

Eluréd chewed on his lip.

The girl kissed him.

Her teeth clicked against his, their noses bumped together, her tongue tasted stale and there seemed to be saliva everywhere. He hated it straight away, and reflexively withdrew, rising to his feet to get her off his lap.

She huffed and went to find attention elsewhere.

Elurín had noticed none of this; he was deep in conversation with the barmaid, who was blushing and tittering like a girl half her age. Eluréd caught the words 'room' and 'games' amongst the giggles and sighed heavily.

After several more minutes of silent brooding and nursing his drink, a Man nearby addressed him in a low voice. "Looks like yer friend's got it lucky tonight." Eluréd glanced without interest towards the door into the back rooms, to see his brother with his arm draped across the barmaid's hips as they disappeared into the back.

"Well, if he enjoys it…"

The Man snorted. "Ye don't have to sound so upset about it. Haven't ye considered getting one of yar own?" Eluréd recalled the kiss of a short while before and cringed.

"No."

"Aaah…so it's not a girl ye're after?" The Man dropped his voice still further. "That can be…arranged."

Eluréd did not like the turn this conversation was taking, and said so. The Man responded with raised eyebrows, eyeing the knife on the Peredhel's hip. "If you say so…" Then a slow smile spread across his face, as if he was realising some profound truth. "Ye're an innocent, aren't ye?"

"Excuse me?"

"Ye've never lain with a woman."

"Is it any of your business?" Eluréd replied defensively. Not even wanting to hear the Man's answer, he stood and stalked off in the direction of the room they'd spent half an hour haggling for earlier, throwing a poisonous glare at the Man before exiting the taproom.

***

Elurín stomped into their room some time later in a foul mood. All right, so he reluctantly admitted to himself that he was both upset and offended and, in fact, deeply hurt. But it all added up to the same thing in the end; the barmaid had professed her undying love for him, complimented him on his prowess, whispered promises and inane flattery into his ear…and then asked him for payment. Rendered speechless by the concept that *that* was all she thought of him, he'd fairly leaped from the bed. He'd looked rather undignified, standing there in a pool of blankets, while she began to rail about 'stupid boys cheating her out of her payment' and insulting several rather personal aspects of Elurín's anatomy, and then gone on to elaborate at length on every flaw in his sexual performance.

The room was dark and quiet; Eluréd was already there, lying on the narrow bed. At first Elurín thought his brother was asleep; he was staring blankly at the ceiling, and although Eluréd seldom slept with his eyes open, owing to his Edain blood, he did so sometimes when he felt unsafe or nervous. But at the sound of Elurín closing the door, the older twin sat up. "Had fun?" he asked, rather bitterly.

"No," Elurín replied, seating himself on the bed beside his brother and dropping his head into his hands. Eluréd's hand came to rest on his shoulder.

"Tell me." The elder twin's eyes, dark grey and large in the dim light, were sad.

"She told me she loved me, that I was gentle and considerate, unlike the others. She said that she wanted to see me again, and that she would remember me. And then…she asked me where the money was." He swallowed. "When she said, 'I love you,' it sounded so sincere. I believed her - but in truth, I meant nothing to her. It's strange how she can say the words so passionately, yet without meaning any of them. I wonder if anyone ever means, 'I love you,' when they say it…?"

Eluréd tilted his brother's chin and met Elurín's eyes with a melancholy smile. "When I say I love you, I mean it, always. You're all I have left." He drew his twin's head closer and gently touched his lips to Elurín's.

The younger twin's eyes went wide, and his mouth unconsciously yielded to Eluréd's. A tongue flickered, uncertain, halting, at his lips, and he parted them to allow its entry. It lapped at the inside of his teeth and danced against his, eliciting a low moan from Elurín's throat. He claimed his brother's mouth back, his hands moving to grasp Eluréd's hips and pull their bodies close.

Eluréd's fingers tangled in his twin's hair as he daringly deepened the kiss further. Elurín reacted instinctively, allowing his hands to roam over his twin's back, feeling toned, hard muscles. "Ohhh," Eluréd whispered. "Can I?" One hand crept tentatively under his brother's shirt; Elurín nodded eagerly and in response felt fingers brushing against his sensitive stomach. He sighed and grew instantly hard with a shudder. Smiling, he reciprocated, sliding his own hand into his twin's leggings to cup a buttock and squeeze lightly. Eluréd's initial reaction of surprise soon turned to pleasure at the gentle touch. They continued to explore one another, laughing a little nervously at discoveries of new places that would elicit soft moans from each other. They were so similar; what would please one invariably pleased the other equally.

They soon collapsed on to the mattress in a tangle, mouths still locked together, wrestling with lacings and buttons, caressing heated skin. Eluréd pressed hot kisses to his brother's neck, taking an earlobe between his lips and sucking hungrily. He purred into his brother's hair as Elurín ran cunning fingers up his spine; the younger twin delighted in feeling Eluréd squirm with the attention.

Eluréd moved to his brother's hips, teasing his brother's chest and stomach on the way down, moving lower until Elurín gasped and arched his back, groaning in ecstasy. Shifting further backwards, he paused momentarily, looking questioning and a little anxious, and Elurín whined in protest, eyes pleading. Eluréd dropped his head and began pleasure his brother with his mouth. Elurín dug his fingers deep into Eluréd's hair, tangling in the straggly braids.

He worked gently but with a pent-up passion that surprised Elurín; the climax, when it came, was unforgettable. Elurín screamed joyful curses, followed by his brother's name, then went limp, sinking into the threadbare sheets, panting and exhausted. He shut his eyes, his head spinning and his face tingling oddly. After a moment, he felt his brother stretch out beside him and slightly salty-tasting lips kissed him lazily.

Elurín lay comfortably, his brother's arm draped across his chest, a comfortable weight. He spent some minutes doing nothing, simply making low, contented noises, before he recovered enough to recall that his brother's needs had still not been attended to. Reaching down, he stroked his brother back to full arousal again and then took him in hand, starting slowly but building the pace as his brother's breath quickened, until Eluréd spent himself with a drawn-out moan.

The elder twin was silent for a while as he gazed at his brother through half-closed eyes. "Still a miserable evening?" he asked eventually.

Elurín nuzzled his head into his twin's shoulder. "Perhaps not," he breathed against the warm skin.

***

Eluréd was not impressed to find that the innkeeper served ale with *breakfast* too. The food, on the other hand, was far more to his liking: hot, substantial and seemingly available in infinite supply. Eluréd was restless this morning. He found himself avoiding eye contact with his brother, and said very little.

They were finishing their meal when another patron approached and took a seat at their table. Eluréd did not remember him from last night, although he admitted he had not been paying as much attention as he ought.

"You lads look like you could use some steady work."

Elurín raised an eyebrow and bit back a grin. Naturally, the Man did not realise they were probably some years his senior; if anything, the brothers should be calling *him* 'lad'. Tactfully, neither of them mentioned this. Instead, Eluréd began guardedly, "Surely that would depend on the kind of work you're proposing?"

"I keep a right fine herd of red deer on my land at the edge of the forest; they bring in enough to keep my family comfortable and happy. But there've been poachers in these parts lately, and they've been taking my does, and one of my best stags. I saw your bows and thought maybe you were hunters with some knowledge of woodcraft; I need help protecting the animals that're left." Eluréd looked at his brother. Elurín narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, considering this proposal. The twins only hunted the small roe deer that ran wild in the forests, but several times on hunting trips they had come across pieces of red deer carcass, and tracks made by groups of Men in the vicinity.

They had never run across the poachers; they'd taken pains to avoid doing so. But their woodcraft was easily good enough to track down the Men responsible if necessary. Eluréd raised an eyebrow in question to his brother. Elurín replied with the slightest of nods. The elder twin addressed the Man. "We'd be interested - if the price is right."

They had no great need of money, but in the past there had been luxuries both of them had mused about being able to own and Eluréd did not intend to allow the Man to cheat them now. He was not an expert on the monetary systems of the Edain, but he and his brother had dealt with enough Men to have a fair idea of what constituted a good offer. The offer they were made now was towards the low end of reasonable, clearly an invitation to negotiate.

After some bargaining (including the dropping less-than-subtle hints about the twins' archery skills and woodsmanship), they managed to talk the Man up to an offer towards the high end of reasonable, and so an agreement was struck. The Man offered to lend the twins horses for them to travel the moderate distance to his smallholding, and bought them drinks, which they accepted out of courtesy rather than any particular desire for more ale. Their new employer engaged them in an hour or so of rather stilted small-talk. The banter would not have been so stilted had Eluréd not blushed and fallen quiet whenever the Man, Barach, made reference to 'the careless pleasures of youngsters', to the point where Elurín tired of the behaviour and kicked him under the table. Ad he left, Barach presented each of them with a small silver coin, 'as an incentive', and said he looked forward to seeing them again in a few days.

Elurín grinned. "Brother, I think we have ourselves a job."