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Chapter 5

(A/N: The following scene is inspired by a fun and highly amusing St Patti's night!)

Spring Equinox had always been a time of celebration and merrymaking for the Elves of Doriath. Apparently, it was a time when Men, too, laid down their bows, pitchforks, shovels and blacksmiths' hammers and indulged in the combined delights of food and ale in excess.

Eluréd, as Elurín had come to expect of his brother at such events, was sitting in a corner, apparently checking every square inch of his bow for scratches and other damage. A girl had tried to make conversation with him earlier, and had been rebuffed with curt, monosyllabic answers; a young farm-hand from a smallholding a few miles away had fared no better.

Elurín wound his way through the mingling people, mugs of warm ale spilling their heads over each hand. He placed one on a stool-top beside his brother and sipped the second himself. Eluréd looked up with a wry smile. "You are not trying to get me drunk, are you?" His eyebrows shot up in mock surprise.

"Of course not. You're hopeless when you're drunk, and I know it'll take something stronger than ale to get *you* socialising with *them*." He jerked his head towards the crowd, who had almost filled Barach's ample hay barn, specially cleared and decorated for the occasion with spring flowers. "Just thought you looked a little lost here and might appreciate some company." His hand alighted briefly on Eluréd's thigh, but was quickly removed for discretion's sake.

Eluréd shrugged. "I'm all right."

Two girls, probably in their late teens by Elurín's estimation, and probably sisters if the striking physical resemblance was anything to go by, sauntered over, evidently intent on trying their luck with the twins. "You're those two who caught them poachers," the shorter one giggled.

"They say you two are really good with those bows of yours," the other added, eyeing the weapons with less interest than she eyed their bearers. "D'you want to get us something to drink?"

Eluréd politely refused. Elurín briefly considered fetching them refreshments and engaging them in some light conversation. But as he glanced across, he saw…*jealousy* in his brother's narrowed eyes. "I'm sure two ladies as charming as you wouldn't want to spend the evening with a wild and uncouth ranger like me," he said mildly, smiling. He nodded to a pair of youths who'd been glancing across at the girls with appreciation earlier. "I'm sure those gentlemen would be far more to your liking." He realised this probably sounded rather absurd, turning them down so awkwardly when they were far from unattractive, but he had not had a great deal of practice at declining such offers.

Just then, he heard a sound. It was the sound a fiddle made when it was being tuned. He scanned the room, wondering where it was. Eluréd had also heard it; he pointed to a small group in the corner. Barach's daughter held a small tin flute; Barach himself was the one with the fiddle and his wife had picked up a set of bridle-bells which dangled from a strip of leather. She shook the bells; they made a liquid tinkle, and applause arose from the guests.

Barach climbed on to a stool and began to speak. "My friends and kinsmen, tonight is the night of the change of year!" he proclaimed, amid enthusiastic cheering. "This night marks the end of winter and the start of spring's new life!" There was more cheering - a considerable number of ale barrels had been emptied over the course of the evening. "So let us celebrate life, growth and birth - let's dance!" With that, he placed the fiddle under his chin and struck up a lively tune. He was not exactly a great musician, but what he lacked in skill, he more than made up for in enthusiasm. Soon the guests had assembled themselves into pairs for a barn dance.

Elurín looked questioningly at his brother but Eluréd held up a hand to decline. Clearing his throat, Elurín dealt his brother a withering glance, at which Eluréd rolled his eyes defeatedly and stood. He slowly followed his twin to join a cheerful-looking group on the far side of the hay barn.

The dance was a parade of colour - skirts in crimson, leaf green and sky blue, men's neckerchiefs being waved like colourful pennants, gingham aprons with bright, plaited strings. Everyone moved from partner to partner, male or female, laughing all the way, and only half of those present seemed to know the steps for the dance; even fewer actually cared.

Elurín spun, whirled, turned to take his next partner's arm, and found himself face-to-face with his brother. The music changed, the dancers splitting into two rows with the members of each couple facing one another. Everyone began to clap in time with the music, excited smiles on flushed faces. The couple at the end, a young girl and an older man, laughed and galloped down the row of people to the far end. There, they did their own little dance, with everyone else looking on. Improvised on the spot, it was a little clumsy, but joyous laughter rang out as they rejoined the end of the line, coupled with enthusiastic applause.

Every couple took their turn, some doing skilful dances with high kicks and delicate steps; others, drunk or merely being comical, charged around like wounded bears, almost tripping over themselves. And then Eluréd and Elurín found themselves at the head of the line. The flute switched to a shriller melody as they passed along the row to the dancing area and Elurín noted his brother's slyly arched eyebrow with intrigue and some anxiety.

A soft whisper, "Do you remember…?" and he had no choice but to follow his brother's lead.

He thought he had forgotten long ago, but his feet still recalled the Elven folk dance that they had learned as children. They had to adjust the tempo somewhat to fit the unfamiliar tune, but it worked. By the Valar, it worked. Their hair flew as they spun each other round, hands linked and the only anchor-point to keep them from leaving the floor altogether, feet weaving a hypnotic web of fast movements. For once, Eluréd seemed unhindered by his injured ankle, and his face was alight with joy and laughter.

So handsome.

Others remarked that the twins looked identical, frequently mistaking one for the other, but Elurín saw many differences. It was the similarities that brought them so close and gave rise to the perfect understanding they shared, but it was the differences that attracted him to Eluréd as a lover. His brother's brows were darker; his eyes had an almost greenish hue in some lights, whereas Elurín's were pure grey. Eluréd's hair was a little longer, his shoulders broader. And, Elurín noticed for the first time as they danced to the fast music, Eluréd was at least an inch shorter than him, in spite of being the elder by a full hour.

"Enough?" Eluréd suggested all too soon, tilting his head. Elurín nodded reluctantly and they assumed places at the end of the line, making way for the next couple.

***

Elurín noticed that his brother had once again returned the corner; Eluréd was nursing another tankard of ale as he watched the other revellers' dancing and laughter with a reflective expression. He threaded his way across to the uncomfortable-looking Elf and sat down beside him, wishing that everyone else would disappear for a moment so that he might steal a kiss from Eluréd's perfect lips. "Tired of the festivities?" he asked his brother.

The elder twin nodded. "It's so…crowded. It makes my skin itch."

Elurín reached out and placed his hand over his brother's, rubbing it gently. "I know. It's all rather…loud, and busy." Eluréd nodded again. "You want to leave, don't you?"

"If you want to stay, do not worry. I am fine here; I can sit and watch." The answer Eluréd received was a determined head shake.

"Brother, if you are not enjoying yourself, there is no need to stay." His hand closed around Eluréd's and he tugged gently. "Come, we can walk outside. The evening is cold, I think, but very clear."

Eluréd seemed uncertain. "I do not want to make you leave if you still want to continue with the music and celebrations…"

"Nonsense," Elurín replied with a smile. "If you are unhappy, I will find no pleasure here either. Come, Eluréd - I would much rather be outside with you."

Luckily the revellers were mostly merry, if not outright drunk, and no-one either noticed or remarked on how the twins continued to hold hands as they made their way through the tables, chairs and mingling people towards the great door to the barn. Nor did the glances the twins threw at one another attract any undue attention. Eluréd's expression softened instantly as they stepped outside and he took a deep, relieved breath.

"See," Elurín said quietly, "aren't you glad we left?"

Eluréd smiled cautiously. "Yes, brother. I forget how much I hate crowds until I am forced to spend several hours in one."

They walked together, listening to the sounds of the night; the low buzzing of busy insects and the shriller calls of night birds. As they approached a stand of birch, Eluréd halted his brother under one of the closer trees, drawing him into a passionate but very gentle kiss. His tongue investigated his brother's mouth tentatively, flicking at Elurín's teeth, slipping underneath the younger twin's own tongue, plunging deep, almost to Elurín's throat.

Elurín caressed his brother's hips and stomach, sliding one hand into Eluréd's leggings. The elder twin gasped into his brother's mouth and smiled, doing the same thing in return. Elurín moaned softly, going almost cross-eyed as his brother's hand roamed indecently low.

Eluréd suddenly withdrew, composing himself with some difficulty; Elurín made an incoherent noise of protest, looking down at the bulge in his leggings. "Not here," Eluréd explained reluctantly. "Too many people could see us."

The younger twin threw himself at his brother again, eyes pleading. "But…"

"Come. Surely we can make it as far as the fodder store?" The wooden barn was no more than a hundred paces into the forest, but it may as well have been a hundred leagues as far as Elurín was concerned. Added to which, both of them had been consuming alcohol fairly freely and the fresh air was sending it straight to their heads. Consequently their progress was further hindered by Elurín stumbling frequently and Eluréd even more so.

"By the Valar…we're here." Finally, Elurín was able to drag his brother through the wooden doorway, his body screaming for attention, and collapse on to a pile of empty sacks in the corner. Eluréd sighed as he began his ministrations once more; he seemed just as relieved as his brother that they now had privacy. Elurín repaid his brother in strokes, licks, pinches and the occasional playful nip.

Eluréd halted again. Elurín looked at his brother with passion-clouded eyes. "Why…stop?" He was lying on his back and at some point his clothes had been removed; the sensation of cold air on sweat-sheened skin was far from unpleasant. Eluréd was looking at him anxiously. "Huh?" the younger twin asked, unable to form a more coherent question.

Eluréd swore. "Oil," he muttered.

Elurín swore. "Don't care."

"I do. I will not hurt you."

"Brother, finish me!"

Eluréd nodded, but did not immediately respond. Raising an eyebrow, he crossed to a barrel on the far side of the barn. "Brother…?" Elurín was writhing now, stroking himself as he ached for his brother's touch. Eluréd shoved both of his hands into the barrel and came back with them covered in a dark brown sticky substance.

"Molasses," he explained with a wicked glint in his eye.

"Wha…?" Eluréd was grinning as he smeared the thick stickiness over both of them, pressing several fingers into Elurín's mouth as he began to move against his brother. The molasses provided the perfect amount of friction between their arousals, without it being abrasive, as the two brothers rubbed together. Elurín, already crazy with desire, relished the sensation.

They climaxed together, letting out low moans, husky with passion; Eluréd collapsed on his brother, panting with satisfaction. They shared lazy kisses for several minutes, talking in apathetic whispers about total inanities, before they curled into one another's arms and fell asleep.

***

"What are you two…oh, by the…no, this can't be happening…" Barach's daughter shook her head violently and scrubbed her eyes as if this was a bad dream and she would awaken if she tried hard enough.

Elurín looked down at himself - naked, one leg draped over his brother's hip, belly still crusted with a mixture of dried molasses and his own semen. Eluréd, of course, was in much the same state. Instinctively, they tried to wriggle into a more modest position, but the girl had seen too much to be fooled. "You…animals!" she spat, shuddering visibly. "You disgust me!"

Elurín watched her retreating figure, outlined in a pale bluish halo from the light of early morning, then turned back to his brother and buried his face in the thick, black locks.

***

"What my daughter has told me comes to a very serious accusation indeed," Barach began gravely. "Whilst I would like very much for you to tell me that it is false, a product of an overactive imagination or a genuine mistake, I *must* know the *truth*. I noticed from the start that you were close, even for brothers, but had put it down to the empathy that twins are supposed to share, especially those of your people." This was the first time that Barach had indicated he was aware that Eluréd and Elurín were not simply Men, and Eluréd narrowed his eyes slightly. "It appears, according to my daughter, that the bond runs deeper than that. Do you deny it?"

Eluréd shot a sideways glance at his brother, willing him not to speak rashly. The younger twin opened his mouth, but rather than a rush of either unconvincing denials or poorly thought-out explanations, only two words emerged.

"We cannot."

Barach dropped his head into his hands. "Why? Why did you have to ruin it for yourselves? Had it been me who had found you, I might have been able to let this pass with just a warning, but you have both shocked and alarmed my daughter. You do understand that, knowing what I do now, I cannot allow you to continue to work for me? Were my competitors and neighbours to hear that I employed such 'animals' and 'deviants', my reputation and business would be destroyed." Eluréd nodded bleakly. Barach sighed. "I don't understand... You had a job with fair pay and a good future; already, your reputation as hunters and trackers precedes you. You were liked by me and my family… Why did you have to spoil it by doing…that?" His lip twitched in revulsion.

Elurín's hand found his brother's and held on to it; Eluréd squeezed it back, rather stiffly - it wasn't as if they were terrified Elflings any more. Barach didn't see the gesture, fortunately. "Look, I'll advance you two months' pay if you leave tonight, with no fuss. I have nothing against you as people, and as workers you have always excelled, but I have to protect my business and my family." He paused as if searching for the right words. "I'm sorry."

Eluréd glanced across again, to see Elurín swallow nervously. He felt bad for his brother; here they had found safety, friendship and comfort, and now all that was gone. Eluréd, though, did not share his brother's anxiety; he had always felt most at home in the wild forests. Even whilst settling into the work on Barach's lands, Eluréd had avoided sleeping inside, or even spending long periods of time enclosed by walls, unless there was no choice in the matter. He was not afraid of their new predicament; the forest had always been a friend to him, and he trusted that it would continue to be.

***

"I can't believe this. This cannot have happened. It's impossible." Why was it that when Eluréd grew anxious, he became increasingly quiet and withdrawn yet, when Elurín grew anxious, he became increasingly loquacious?

"Brother, calm yourself," he said, hoping he sounded authoritative enough to get through to his twin. "We grew up in the forests; we shall be fine."

Elurín looked at his brother and managed a shaky smile. "You are right. I'm sorry." They stopped on the edge of a brook which marked the boundary of Barach's lands. "We will cope, as always." He stepped lightly across the rocks that formed a path across the brook and moved off gracefully into the tall trees. Eluréd followed slowly, trying to read his twin's state of mind from his posture and the way he walked. For some reason, Elurín was afraid of the future facing them.

Why? Eluréd couldn't fathom it. The forest was their home. He knew that Elurín had happily settled into the rhythms of life working for Barach, but surely he still remembered his connection to the trees and animals of the forest.

After that, Elurín remained quiet, which was a source of some concern to his brother. The younger twin was walking stiffly and seemed tense, as if trying to convince himself that he was being determined and confident. Catching up with his brother, Eluréd saw that Elurín was fighting back tears.

"Elurín, stop." Elurín halted, staring at the ground and shifting his weight awkwardly from foot to foot. Eluréd enveloped his brother in a warm and very sincere hug. "Talk to me - why are you so afraid?"

Elurín shook his head and inhaled slowly. "I don't know."

"Really?"

"Really…well." He pulled himself a little straighter. "With Barach we were…safe. I worry, Eluréd. I don't want you to get hurt again and…and if I lost you, I don't know what I'd do. Especially now."

Eluréd kissed his brother's lips, licking up a tear that had somehow escaped, rocking him a little as a mother would do to a child in need of comfort. "I can look after myself, I promise. And we'll look after each other. We owe it to Doriath, to Adar and Naneth…and, I suppose, after everything, we owe it to each other." He stoked his brother's hair; it smelled of dry leaves and rain. Elurín rested his head on his twin's shoulder until his nervous breathing calmed, while Eluréd murmured half-forgotten snippets of old lullabies to him.

***

"Elurín, will you stop pacing?" The younger twin halted and dropped to the mossy ground somewhat reluctantly.

"Sorry. I just feel…useless."

"How come?"

Elurín shrugged. "I don't know. I just can't really see what we're going to do now."

"Do we have to do anything?" Eluréd asked, idly pulling the petals off a wood anemone.

"Well…what's the point, otherwise?"

Eluréd raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps you're right." He patted his brother's shoulder. "Perhaps, then, it's now time to reclaim our legacy."