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One of the many advantages of having Elven blood, Elurín decided, was that riding horses came naturally. He was currently sitting backwards on his horse, reclining idly against its neck, legs dangling loosely just behind its shoulders, whilst he conversed with his brother, who was riding behind. The travellers who’d passed them on the road had dealt him some odd looks; but the sun was shining, the birdsong was joyful, and he merely chucked at them.
Eluréd, for once, was also cheerful - talkative, even. They discussed what to expect from their new trade, where they might be living; Eluréd professed his strong desire to sleep outside under the stars if at all possible. Elurín had noticed how his twin disliked being enclosed within walls; if expected to remain inside for long periods Eluréd invariably became sullen and anxious. It was their upbringing, he supposed. How many years had they spent living wild in Doriath? Decades, he suspected. Truly, they had become creatures of the forest. He could see that now, looking at Eluréd - the straggly black hair, dark grey eyes with deep shadows. He was much like the forest at dusk. And, like Doriath, Eluréd had a strange wild beauty, dangerous, and yet so sad that at times it could break your heart. Eluréd had always adored his parents, and took their loss hard, whilst Elurín, looking back, realised that for as long as he could remember, it was his brother for whom he had reserved his worship...his love.
Eluréd’s voice broke through his musings. “I wonder if Elwing did get away after all.”
That comment somewhat impaired Elurín’s enjoyment of the afternoon. Elwing had been so young when Doriath had fallen that he’d convinced himself it was impossible for the ‘Bad Elves’, as he still mentally referred to them, to have been so heartless as to kill her. “If anyone had a chance to survive, it was her. The Kinslayers must be ruthless indeed to kill one so young.”
“They still tried to kill us.”
“But they dared not do it directly. And we didn’t die.” He smirked.
Eluréd raised an eyebrow and fell silent.
“This is the attic room, where you can sleep. It’s not much, I know, but it’s cool in summer and warm in winter…” Their new employer seemed sweetly oblivious to the fact that Eluréd was regarding the four walls other their new home with great discomfiture. Elurín reached out and clasped his brother’s hand, behind his back where the deer herder could not see it. “…you’re welcome to eat in the kitchen with my family; my wife is a wondrous cook. Or, if you prefer, you can manage your own food…”
In his own home, Barach was certainly a garrulous individual. He’d described the boundaries of his land to them: a stream, a hill, a patch of marshland, and explained which areas suffered most heavily from poaching. Elurín had absorbed it all attentively, committing the details to memory, and although Eluréd occasionally looked bored during the long monologue, the way that the top of his nose kept wrinkling very slightly with though showed that he, too, was taking it all in.
I can see you both carry bows, which was what drew me to approach you in the first place. I would like to see your skills for myself, if you’re willing.”
Eluréd shrugged. “As you wish.”
The twins surveyed the meadow to which they had been led and strung their bows. “Would you care to choose a target?” Eluréd asked Barach, his eyes darting to a dead tree across the broad swathe of grass.
Elurín bit his lip to keep from laughing when Barach indicated a much closer target, and saw amusement flicker briefly in his brother’s eyes too. Either of them could hit that easily. “Elurín, would you like to go first?” Eluréd smiled at his brother.
Elurín nodded acquiescence, setting an arrow to his bow with practised economy of movement, drawing the string back to his ear and letting it fly…straight into the centre of the target. Barach chuckled. “I see I underestimated your skill. Can you also his that tree over there?” He pointed to the target that Eluréd had originally picked out.
With a smile, Elurín sank an arrow into the dead tree’s crumbling trunk. This drew much applause from Barach. “And your brother? Can he match you?” Elurín thought the Man looked slightly sceptical. He had already seen Barach frowning at Eluréd’s slight but noticeable limp. Well, he would be in for a surprise then; Eluréd had always been the superior marksman and his bow, with its slightly heavier draw-weight, sent the arrows flying faster.
The elder twin stepped forward, nocking an arrow and loosing it without even seeming to take aim. Barach watched with narrowed eyes, eye that widened with shock as the shaft flew perfectly straight and split his twin’s arrow down the centre.
Eluréd turned to his new employer, placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I trust our performance was satisfactory?”
Barach was quiet for several long moments, before his craggy face cracked in a wide grin. “I think you’ll do.”
“These are fresh prints.” Eluréd knelt on the ground near to where his twin was pointing and examined the marks.
“It seems that we’ve found our poachers, then. We’d better speed up, and see if we can’t catch them before they get away this time.” This was their tenth day of forays across Barach’s lands, and the second time they’d run across traces of the Men responsible for all the problems. The first time, they’d arrived just slightly too late, finding the scene of the kill empty save for an arrowhead, several splatters of blood and some reddish-brown hairs from the unfortunate doe, snagged on a thorn bush as the injured animal presumably attempted to flee from her attackers.
This time, Eluréd was determined not to let them get away. Standing up again, he set off at the fastest jog he could manage without noise, glancing back only to check he brother was following. Elurín was right behind him, long hair flying all over the place as he ran.
He kept an eye on the tracks, checking that the group did not split up or turn off among the trees. He was listening to the birds; they could tell him much about what was happening in the forest. They would not cease their song for the passage of an Elf - or Peredhel - but when a Man walked under their tree, silence would fall, or the bolder birds would call out a warning, harsh and distinctive. It was for these clues that Eluréd listened.
At the moment, all was well. A flycatcher sang in sharp, shrill chirps, counterpointed by the complex trills for a wren. A robin’s song carried from a tree some distance away, loud and beautifully liquid.
But a few furlongs further on, he heard what he expected to hear sooner or later. A jay uttered a harsh scolding once, twice, and then there was nothing but the leaves in the breeze. Then a frantic rustling: a deer bolting through the bracken. Without stopping, Eluréd unslung the bow from across his back and readied it for use. Typically, he then tripped on a root, stumbling. Biting back a curse, he steadied himself with a hand on a tree trunk before pressing onwards, moving quickly and silently. Eluréd soon picked out the Men’s voices and stopped, narrowing his eyes as he listened. Reaching up, he caught a branch above his head and swung himself up to crouch on it. A heartbeat later, Elurín was beside him.
They followed the pathes formed by the trees’ broader boughs after that. Elurín was at home up here, but Eluréd always felt unsafe and precarious among the high, springy branches. Elurín knew this well, and his fingers curled unobtrusively around his brother’s hand. They moved more slowly now, wary of the fall should they slip, all the time peering through the soft green leaves. Yes, they were there, below.
“I see them,” Elurín murmured. “Six of them.”
“Take one of the two lagging behind first; I’ll take the other. Then we can deal with the other four.”
“Can we take them all alive?” Elurín looked doubtful.
Eluréd fitted an arrow to his bow. “I believe so.”
Indeed, the two men who walked at the rear, chatting idly in low voices, fell side by side with arrows in their thigh and calf respectively. Unfortunately, both let out rather loud shrieks as they did so. The other poachers halted, turned to see what was amiss, and two more of them collapsed forwards with arrows protruding somewhat painfully from their behinds.
The final two believed themselves to have worked out where the shots had come from, but didn’t have time to ponder it, as the Peredhil dropped from the tree on to them, bearing them to the ground. Both twins carried coils of rope and, after a brief struggle, this was manoeuvred around the poachers, tying five of them together. Tight knots immobilised them most effectively, and they sat glaring at the Peredhil. Elurín bolted off after the remaining man, who had tried to escape in spite of his injuries. A thud and a muffled curse indicated that he’d brought the poacher down.
Eluréd scrutinised the poachers. They were a sullen lot, weather-beaten and dour-looking. Pacing up and down the line, he noted faces and committed them to memory. After a few minutes, he retreated a couple of paces to confer with his brother. “We need to get them back to the house,” he stated. Elurín nodded agreement. “You stay here and guard them,” the elder twin instructed. “I’m going back to get horses and more hands.”
“No.” Elurín shook his head. “I’m the faster runner. I’ll go.” Knowing that his brother was right, Eluréd did not argue back, and watched the lithe figure slip away, rapidly blending in with the trees. He didn’t realise how wistful he must have looked until he heard the soft jeering from the captive Men behind him. He glowered at them.
“Be quiet. You have made enough trouble for yourselves already.” He sat down with his back to the tree and waited for Elurín to return.