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"Valar…" A gasp was wrenched from Eluréd's lips as he stared at the ruins of the place that he had once called home. Where there had been domed ceilings and towering pillars, now there were gaping holes and piles of broken rubble.
"What have they done?" Elurín whispered.
Eluréd shook his head, unable to comprehend how anyone could do this. Was this the 'Bad Elves' who had killed their family, or simply Men, chancing upon treasures and claiming them as their own?
Elurín was walking through the formerly spectacular caverns, running his hand over broken pieces of rock and furniture from which the jewels had been prised one by one. The expression on his fair face suggested that he could barely believe what he was seeing. Eluréd simply sat down in the middle of the Great Hall and looked at it all sadly. Whoever had done this, he was disgusted.
He heard Elurín's light tread off to his left as the younger twin inspected the other rooms and caverns. Occasionally there was the creak of a chest being opened or a grating noise as a heavy object was pushed to one side. He wasn't sure why his brother was insisting upon investigating all of Menegroth - was he hoping to find something, or merely enjoying tormenting himself with the sight of all the ruin?
After something over an hour, the younger twin reappeared. His eyes were pink-rimmed and his face was rather pale, as if feeling faintly nauseous. His hand was pressed over his mouth as he flopped down by his brother.
Elurín sighed heavily, swallowing. "I found the nursery."
Elurín's eyes narrowed angrily. "No, the other nursery," he replied sarcastically. "Of course our nursery. They've smashed everything in there - do you remember the deer on wheels that I used to pull around everywhere?" Eluréd nodded, fondly recalling how he always knew when Elurín was coming down a flight of stairs as there would be a bump-bump-bump of the deer rolling behind him. "It had been broken into about four pieces! I couldn't even find the head!"
Eluréd shook his head and slid his arm round his brother's waist as he continued, "And Nana's mobile - do you remember it? It had swans on, and when the wind blew it had bells that chimed? They ripped it down and…"
"Shhh." Eluréd hushed his brother. "We'll see what can be fixed, how does that sound?"
Elurín smiled weakly and rested his head on his brother's shoulder. "What kind of person would do that to a *nursery*?"
Eluréd ran his fingers through his twin's hair, smoothing out the knots and tangles. "My poor, beautiful brother," he sighed. "I love you more than anything, and I hate so much to see you upset like this. We said we'd win Menegroth back; we have it now, and we haven't even had to fight for it. I want to make it beautiful again for you now, my dear brother."
"Is that even possible?" Elurín wondered, raising his head to look into his brother's dark grey eyes.
"I'll make it possible," Eluréd promised with determination.
Elurín whistled jauntily as he carried out more broken furniture from the caves and added it to the pile outside. He was still amazed that Eluréd was indeed going through with his promise. After the first night spent sleeping outside the entrance, he'd woken with the dawn and, after a simple meal from their travelling supplies of berries, nuts and cooked meat wrapped in leaves for carrying, he'd disappeared into Menegroth's depths and started emerging with armfuls of rubbish.
It didn't take long before Elurín realised that his brother really did intend to persist in this task until it was finished. And so he joined in. The first days consisted of moving out obvious rubbish - items which clearly were beyond repair - and identifying and putting to one side anything which looked salvageable.
They discovered to their pleasure that the back passages used by their father's servants were still largely intact; almost certainly because the only unconcealed entrance to them had been half-buried under rubble when the ceiling in that room had collapsed. owing to the removal of a chandelier from the centre of said ceiling. (The thief had ripped out a fair amount of structural support in the process and must have been lucky to leave with their life, never mind the chandelier.) The armouries had been emptied, save for the few items which had been locked in a secure room behind an enormous oak door, but as neither twin had found the key, they could not retrieve their father's favourite hunting knives or Mablung's great bow.
The week after that was taken up with removing the large pieces of stonework and rubble which lay everywhere. It was gruelling work for the half-Elves, day after day of dragging around rough, heavy objects; Elurín felt himself awaken stiffer with each passing morning, his palms grazed and callused, and by the way Eluréd's limp was getting more pronounced, he could tell that his brother was suffering somewhat too.
However, it felt like they were doing something constructive and important, and that kept their spirits up.
Deciding that he had earned a break for a few minutes, Elurín stretched out on the grass, resting the back of his head on interlaced hands and staring up at the clear sky. They had been fortunate with the weather; it had rained only once over the course of their efforts. Luckily, even that had been during the night,and the grey afternoon had given them enough warning of the impending shower that they had been able to move everything delicate undercover. A low chuckle sounded above him. "Slacking off, brother?"
"I thought that it was time for a rest, that's all."
"You had a rest just an hour ago," Eluréd teased, seating himself beside his twin. "Typical younger brother, always trying to get the easier deal." He was joking, of course - Elurín knew his brother in truth considered himself deeply indebted to Elurín. It was a belief the younger twin did not share, but Eluréd was stubbornly insistent on the matter.
"It's coming along well," Eluréd said optimistically after a moment's pause.
"It is," Elurín agreed, grinning. "We're doing a good job; we should celebrate."
"And how do you propose to do that? We aren't exactly overflowing with wine and sweet pastries here."
"Well, I saw some wild strawberries a little way into the forest. We have meat from the rabbit you shot this morning. I know where we can collect wild celery, and weren't you crowing about finding some mushrooms earlier?"
"'Crowing' is rather an exaggeration. But there was a whole hillside covered in them! They are perfect, still young, and I'm sure they'll taste wonderful!" Eluréd had always had an inexplicable fondness for mushrooms; Elurín had often cheered his brother up in the past, especially during that long, hard first winter, by bringing home mushrooms. Making his brother smile had been one of his favourite activities during those days; it still was, and these days, the smiles came more easily.
He moved slightly to rest his head in Eluréd's lap, his black hair spreading out around his head. The elder twin sighed and contentedly began to run his fingers over his brother's unbound locks. "We make a good team," Elurín commented lazily.
"Yes, I think we do."
Eluréd walked slowly through the empty halls of Menegroth. 'The Thousand Caves' they had called them once, glittering like the night sky in their unforgettable finery. Now the walls were bare; the floors, once lacquer, parquet and quartz mosaic, were cracked, chipped and in many places ripped away entirely. The ceiling above a large part of the Great Hall had caved in and shattered on the floor - it had taken them days to remove all the chunks of rock. The caves were cleared now, ready for a fresh start. But what to fill them with? They had been forced to discard many, many more things than they could keep.
He shook his head at the seemingly insurmountable task. It had taken his great grandfather, King Thingol, hundreds of years to build Menegroth - and he had been aided by a Maia! Could the twins stand even the smallest hope of repeating the act?
"So, this is what was to become of our home," murmured Elurín. The younger twin's eyes followed the same path around their surroundings as his brother's had. They alighted on the great seat in the centre. It was the throne on which King Thingol had once sat, and later Dior the Fair, with the Nauglamír clasped around his throat.
A carving of a nightingale had once been set upon the headrest, but at some point that, like so much else, had been snapped off, and only a splintered stump remained. "It looks so plain now," Elurín commented.
"It does," Eluréd agreed. He picked up a silver candlestick, largely undamaged but heavily tarnished, and began to polish it on his sleeve.
Abruptly, Elurín left the hall; Eluréd stared for several moments at the door through which his brother had exited, but did not stop to think where Elurín was going. He returned his attention to the candlestick.
Less than five minutes later, Elurín re-entered the hall, a spring in his step and a huge tangle of flowering bindweed in his arms. "Elurín, what are you doing with that?" Eluréd asked sceptically.
"We are not jewelsmiths," the younger twin stated.
"No, we're not," Eluréd agreed disinterestedly.
"So we cannot restore Menegroth with the green of emeralds and the blue of sapphires."
Eluréd stopped and raised his eyebrows, beginning to grasp his twin's (somewhat implausible) plan.
"So," Elurín continued, warming to his idea and speaking faster and faster with anticipation, "why do we not instead restore its beauty with the green of leaves and the blue of summer flowers?" As he spoke, he arranged the bindweed around the top of his father's throne; the pale pink flowers and heart-shaped leaves hid the damage and wear and looked, as they admired it, to be the only brightness in the great chamber.
Eluréd rose and crossed to the dais and his twin. "'Tis pretty," he said with a wistful smile. "But in only a few hours the flowers will begin to wilt."
Elurín lowered his eyes. "You are right, of course." He sighed, and then suddenly smiled with renewed optimism. "But we have a number of usable urns! They will do very well as pots for plants and trees. The fire-pits in the Feast Hall could become beds of wildflowers. We can train briars up the pillars, and take the spring that used to service the baths and divert it through all the chambers in turn to provide water…!"
"Slow down, slow down!" Eluréd cut off his brother's tide of enthusiasm with a chuckle. "Maybe we can, indeed, make Menegroth into the Jewel of Doriath once again, but let us not rush in all at once, or we shall most likely find ourselves buried under all these plants you hope for!"
"We should make plans," Elurín agreed, more sober now but no less hopeful. "And I suppose we can only grow plants in those chambers with good natural light; that limits us a little, but still gives us the Great Hall, the Feast Hall…"
"The nurseries, bedchambers and all the other rooms in that wing," Eluréd added. "The roof there collapsed too, remember."
"How could I forget? I had to cart all the rubble out, didn't I?"
"I helped!" Eluréd responded indignantly.
"You nagged me when I was doing it 'wrong', if that's what you mean."
"Are you calling me lazy?" Eluréd moved to swat his brother, but Elurín dodged out of reach and, laughing, head-butted his twin so that they both fell down.
They abandoned themselves to a little light-hearted play-fighting then, as they had done when they were small (and later not so small) Elflings, sometimes in the same room as they were now (although never when Ada had been entertaining important guests, of course). But, whereas their Nana had once been there to pull them apart and end the rough and tumble, now no other needed to interfere. Pinches and struggles became affectionate caresses; teasing kisses were exchanged. Laughter turned to lower, throatier groans of pleasure, and some time later two naked bodies passed into blissful slumber, entwined on the floor before a flower-laden throne in the ruins of Menegroth.