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The twins stepped back, admiring the success of their work to divert the spring through the caves. Already, the small plants they had established beside it were flourishing. Everything was going according to their revised plan. Menegroth might not achieve its former glory, but it could take on a new splendour.
Eluréd turned suddenly, staring suspiciously into the undergrowth. "I heard something," he whispered to his brother. Elurín nodded in agreement, coming to stand beside the older twin. His eyebrows drawing together in concentration, Eluréd grabbed the bow they had left within reach, strung and ready to be used and, nocking an arrow, took careful aim.
Elurín was more hesitant. No Man could pass through the forest and make so little noise, and he doubted that even a Noldorin Elf would be so silent. It aroused his curiosity as well as his apprehension. He backed into the shadows of the great cave entrance, almost disappearing in the dim light.
The intruder stepped slowly from the undergrowth, head raised confidently, hands outstretched in a gesture of peace. Several locks of silver hair had slipped out from under the hooded cape and the Elf carried himself with perfect grace and authority; that hair colour was the final confirmation that this was another Elf of Doriath.
Though his face was partially obscured by the hood, Elurín recognised the Elf as soon as he moved into better light; seeing as his brother had lowered his bow, it seemed Eluréd had realised as well. Sure enough, the name fell softly from the older Peredhel's lips. "Celeborn?"
Elurín now stepped cautiously from the shadows, approaching the stately Sinda. Celeborn - a close friend of his father's, his own great uncle, and a frequent visitor to Doriath when the twins had been Elflings. Old memories resurfaced in a moment, and he remembered this elegant figure standing beside his father at many a meeting and feast. "What brings you here, now?" he asked with uncertainty.
Celeborn drew back his hood and smiled wryly. "You did."
"Me?" Elurín asked. "Us?"
"Both of you. Various rumours had reached my ears that two young warriors, archers of some renown, walked the paths of Doriath. I asked some questions and sent out some of my people to ask further questions and, indeed, the news they brought back was most intriguing."
Elurín glanced at his brother, feeling a frown crease his brow. Eluréd shook his head and briefly touched a finger to his lips. Ignoring this, Celeborn continued, "From what I was told, I realised it was very likely that Dior's sons had in fact survived, but I had to know this for myself. So I came here, to Menegroth, to discover what truth lay beneath the rumours."
"The truth," said Eluréd coldly, "is that the rumours most likely *all* have basis in fact - yes, including the less 'honourable' ones." His glare was defiant, daring Celeborn to spit on them and leave right now. "From Men, we have seen naught but misery in recent times; having heard the tales of us, shall we be as outcasts amongst the Elves also?"
Celeborn bowed his head, an expression of pain crossing his fine features. He went swiftly to Eluréd, embracing him as if he was the Peredhel's own father. "You know that I was a close friend of your father's; you were always very dear to me, and now your father is no longer here, I would count you as my own sons." Eluréd accepted the embrace stiffly, offering only a wary nod of comprehension at Celeborn's words. Elurín was unsure how to respond; after coping on their own for so long, and making it to adulthood without the help of family, he found it hard to see Celeborn as some sort of replacement father-figure now. He and Eluréd had always protected and defended one another, needing no one else.
"It gives me great pride knowing that you were able to survive the perils of Doriath all these years and mature into who you both are today," their kinsman told them. His voice carried a note of emotion; if nothing else, there was no doubt of his sincerity. "You have missed out on so much that you rightfully deserve but most of all, you have missed out on love. I hear that you found love in each other's arms and if this is so, I do not condemn it. It was the only place you could have found it, I suppose…and it seems to have brought you both through everything."
"It will always do so," Elurín remarked with confidence, moving closer to his brother. Eluréd seemed surprised to see his twin speak so defensively, but did not argue. "My brother has always been there for me, and I for him, in any way required."
Celeborn smiled thoughtfully. "It is a good arrangement, in such a harsh situation." He unclipped the brooch that held his cape across his broad shoulders and removed the garment, folding it over his arm. "If you would be so kind as to grant me hospitality tonight, I should like to join you. You see, I have a proposal for you."
Three pairs of eyes stared across the flickering flames of the fire that the twins has built, each set filled with its own thoughts. Celeborn, having journeyed so far, was ravenously hungry and demolished second and third helpings of the stew offered to him. Earlier that evening, as the twins had been moving to and fro preparing the meal, he had stopped Elurín briefly and questioned him.
"Eluréd? You are Eluréd, I presume?"
Elurín had shaken his head, smiling slightly. "Nay, I am Elurín."
"Oh," Celeborn had replied. "I had hoped you would tell me what ails your brother."
Elurín raised an eyebrow, looking at the tall Sinda in surprise. "I do not know what you mean. My brother is certainly serious and not exactly jovial today, but that is his nature."
"But what happened to his ankle? Is it a permanent injury?"
"Ah," Elurín said, realisation dawning. Glancing over at his brother, he saw that yes, Eluréd was limping more severely than usual at present, most likely because of their recent hard endeavours in the caves. "I would not worry about that - indeed it is permanent, but it is an old injury from a trap laid by Men. If you ask, he would probably not mind showing you the scars. It rarely seems to slow him down."
"By Men, you say? Aiya…it is a pity that Doriath has declined so far." After that, Celeborn had fallen silent and did not speak again for some time, lost as he was in his own thoughts.
They ate slowly, with an air of distraction that was detached but in no way awkward and presently, Celeborn spoke again. "After Doriath fell for the second time; after your father's reign was ended and you were lost to us, a vision began to kindle in my mind." He paused for a moment, his ancient eyes glancing into the flames as if the vision of which he spoke had formed within the heart of the fire. "I envisaged Doriath restored, a place that, although still filled with its rightful mystery and the hidden dangers of any forest so old, was no longer tainted with the scent of treachery and malice. When I first heard tell of the two youths who walked some of the forest's paths, tracking down poachers and bandits, even before it occurred to me that they might be you, I felt that vision light up once again."
"What do you mean?" Eluréd enquired. He laid down his empty bowl and drew his knees up to his chin, staring over them at Celeborn.
"I realised that what you were doing in Doriath was what I felt was needed to achieve my vision. And now that I have come here to Menegroth and seen what you have done with the ruins most would have abandoned as a hopeless cause…Eluréd, Elurín, I know this forest can be beautiful again. Here, I see two of my kin who have the ability, the patience and the *hope* to bring that beauty back."
"Wait," Eluréd interrupted firmly. "Are you appointing this task to us? We are not yours to command." Elurín nodded slowly in agreement, his expression pensive, but said nothing.
"I do not command you. It is a request…a bargain."
"A bargain?" Elurín muttered curiously.
"If you would be willing to continue the work towards my vision, I know of Elves who will lend their aid. I have contacts among the Nandor of Ossiriand. They are not quite like us, but they have great love for forests and they are a people whom I respect deeply. I can supply you with provisions, building materials if you wish, and weapons if you require, from my own stores."
"How do we benefit?" Eluréd asked flatly.
Elurín was the one to answer, in a soft voice. "How did you benefit from coming back here to Menegroth and restoring it?"
Eluréd's thoughtful eyes narrowed as he considered the question. "I know it would make Ada proud, were he to see it. And I did not want to have survived everything, yet still manage to achieve nothing."
"And how proud would Dior be if you rescued Doriath?" Celeborn asked. "'Tis a far superior form of vengeance than swearing a blood-oath against the Fëanorians, as others would have done."
"Lord Celeborn," Elurín began, glancing at his brother briefly and then meeting the eyes of the ancient silver-haired Elf with resolve. "I would like to see your vision brought to life; if you will provide the help you offered, I would see Doriath become a place of delight to our people once again."
Eluréd nodded slowly. "Doriath is my home. The forest deserves better than to have become the place it now is. Yes, Celeborn, I am with you."