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Chapter 8

A/N: As I was writing this, I was poking the language resources relating to Tolkien's world and learned that a load of the common 'Sindarin' words are really of Quenya origin. Eluréd, of course, stubbornly refuses to use any nasty Noldorin words. However, putting "Gódhil" for "Noldor" and so on just looks messy and confusing in the text, so this can be taken to be a "normalised" version of the terminology he actually used. To be fair, most of what Eluréd comes out with has to be edited for expletives anyway.

***

If Elurín had once seemed on occasion a little like an overgrown Elfling, Eluréd mused, all traces of that had now disappeared from his brother. He walked with confidence amongst their small, select group of Nandor, Elves sworn to secrecy about the brothers' location and their very existence. It was safer that way; the twins could sleep with the assurance that word of their survival would never reach Fëanorian ears.

Elurín's posture and demeanour were now that of a skilled and experienced warrior; he seemed always balanced, poised and possessed of an easy self-assurance.

Of course, Eluréd was the only one to see when that assurance slipped. After a bad few weeks in when elusive Edain bandits would evade them time after time, both of them would begin to feel those typical doubts about their cause and would worry that their band would lose confidence in them. At such times, Eluréd felt duty bound to be the one on whom his brother could collapse, sighing, seeking comfort and trust. These things would always be found between them, willingly conferred by tender lips and sensitive fingers, bringing smiles and life back to Elurín's face.

And when Eluréd felt himself waver? He would not speak, simply leading his brother to a private place, asking with silent, gentle eyes for this favour. Elurín would always nod, undressing slowly, presenting himself; never resisting being taken by his twin - sometimes slowly, sometimes more roughly, but always with love.

The Nandor probably knew but they never spoke of it; nor did any hint of disapproval ever appear on those kind, thoughtful faces. Perhaps it was of no interest to them. Therefore, Elurín did not hold back from sometimes letting his hand brush against his brother's in greeting, and even Eluréd, over the years, had learned not to be ashamed to sit so close to his brother at mealtimes that their hips were touching. The Nandor seemed to judge others largely on the basis of their knowledge of and their respect and love for the forests, and in those areas the twins excelled.

Months flew by, gradually becoming years, and ground was gradually won back from Morgoth and his poison; thus the evenings were often filled with loud song and raucous stories of valour and adventure. The Nandor were excellent companions at such times - their voices were strong and sweet and they were masters at weaving a good tale.

Last night had been one such evening; Elurín had challenged several of them to arm-wrestling matches, with mixed success. Of course, then Eluréd had teased his brother about his need to prove himself, and suddenly he was on the receiving end of the younger twin's next challenge.

Accepting, of course, led to a lengthy match. The twins were a fine match for one another; neither was able to move the other, seemingly, for many minutes. They glared at each other over the joined hands, occasionally throwing a muttered insult at the other; but no serious barbs. The remarks were intended to distract rather than hurt, though they did not seem to succeed on either count. Eluréd kept his face impassive, scanning his brother's expression for any sign of tiring. Elurín dealt him a sarcastic smile, which Eluréd returned. As he did so, he saw the muscles around Elurín's eyes tense with concentration. This was good: the advantage was now his. He made sure once again that no sign of strain was visible on his own features and slightly increased the pressure against his brother's hand. Elurín raised an eyebrow and matched him, but his lip twitched uncomfortably.

Eluréd persisted. Elurín bit his lip, beginning to frown, his skin starting to flush. Eluréd felt his brother's arm shake slightly, though the strength remained. Then, suddenly, Elurín swore and gave in, letting Eluréd slam his arm down.

Eluréd had chuckled softly at the time, later leading his brother deeper into the forest and more than making up for slightly denting Elurín's pride.

Nevertheless, Elurín had been challenging him to a rematch all morning and, amusingly, the Nandor had been encouraging Eluréd to accept. Eluréd wondered if they had wagers on the outcome; the Nandor insisted that they did not gamble but they *were* a secretive people and could be making it up for all he knew. He was somewhat of the opinion that the Green Elves were altogether a little odd. His own time spent with Men had taught him, if nothing else, that the forest did not suffer as a result of the felling of a small number of trees, yet the Nandor's affection for the forest was so absolute that they would not even contemplate that.

It had intrigued Eluréd immensely when the small group of green-clad Elves had first met them. He had known relatively few Elves, especially in recent years, and their thoughtful demeanour had seemed a far cry from the reckless and impulsive attitudes of Men. It had taken him a while to become accustomed to working with them, but after a while he realised that he felt far more comfortable among the Nandor than he ever had among Men.

Elurín came over and poked him. "Still not up for a rematch?" he teased.

"Elurín, I do not believe you when you maintain that you *let* me win and you will not convince me otherwise, however hard you try," Eluréd replied firmly. "I do not want a rematch."

Elurín clicked his tongue and, glancing around to check that they weren't being *too* obvious, slid his arms round Eluréd's waist, resting his chin on his brother's shoulder. "The others are suggesting that we move north a few leagues and work from there," he murmured to his elder brother. "And I agree."

"As do I," Eluréd replied. "We have accomplished all we can here, I think." He had noticed earlier that the Nandor were tidying the camp quite obsessively. "We can move at dawn tomorrow," he decided, "when the scouts have returned safely."

Elurín glanced up at the afternoon sky, estimating the time. "They should be back soon."

They gathered up their few possessions ready for tomorrow - both brothers travelled light out of habit. If necessary, the clothes they were wearing and the knives on their belts would be enough to live by. Once they were organised, Elurín sat down against a tree and leaned against it with a relaxed, indifferent expression. Smiling at the sight of his brother in repose, Eluréd joined him. He interlaced his fingers with Elurín's and patted the ground between his legs. "Come and sit here," he suggested.

Elurín smiled back and moved so that he sat between his twin's legs, leaning back against Eluréd's chest. Eluréd affectionately tucked one of his brother's straggly braids behind a slightly pointed ear. Leaning forward, he nuzzled Elurín's neck, kissing it gently. The response he received was a chuckle as Elurín took one of his brother's hands and raised it to his lips. "You were right, you know."

"Right?"

"When we had to leave Barach. You said we would be fine in the forest. And we were."

"Of course," Eluréd replied. "Doriath will care for us; the forest would not abandon us now."

"You have always said as much. But it took me a long time to stop longing for the comforts of Menegroth, and then the small luxuries of Barach's house. Don't you ever miss the food or the soft beds, the music…or the sweets?" he asked.

Eluréd shrugged. "I think that during the time when I might have missed those things, I was still too preoccupied with what happened at Menegroth."

"Brother, you are *still* preoccupied with what happened at Menegroth."

Eluréd tilted his head, conceding the point. "I suppose I am… What I mean is...while I *would* have been longing for the old comforts, I was still so absorbed with the loss of our family that I did not stop to consider anything else. Now, I am so used to living off what the forest can offer that I have ceased to consider anywhere else home, and it no longer concerns me - even just after we left Barach's house." His brother's answer was a slightly cynical nod, but no further discussion took place and a low whistle from somewhere off to the east indicated that someone familiar had arrived at camp. "The scouts," Eluréd said, waiting for his brother to rise before getting up to follow him.

The scouts were smiling as if incredibly pleased with themselves when the brothers arrived. "What is it?" Eluréd asked, scanning the half dozen satisfied faces.

"We made a discovery," one of them said mildly.

"A 'discovery'?"

"See for yourself." They stepped aside to allow the brothers to see the Elf approaching from behind them.

"Celeborn!" Eluréd exclaimed with genuine pleasure, quite a difference from his tone on the Elf-lord's last unheralded visit. He rushed to embrace his kinsman. "What brings you here again?"

Celeborn bowed elegantly to the brothers. "Two reasons," he said. "Firstly, I have heard many good things about your progress here. Apparently, you have enabled vast and previously impassable areas of forest to be settled by groups of Men and not a few Elves. You are achieving what I had hoped for, and it is indeed heartening." Eluréd looked across at his brother, placing a hand on Elurín's shoulder. Elurín half-turned and flashed him a grin. "And secondly," Celeborn continued, "I am here to tell you about the rumours from the North."

"Rumours?" Eluréd repeated.

The elder Elf nodded. "It is said that Eärendil, the mariner…"

"Who?" Elurín interrupted.

"A Peredhel from the line of the Noldor."

"Oh, very well." This seemed to satisfy Elurín well enough.

"… Eärendil the mariner sailed to Valinor and was granted audience with the Valar. It is said that they are sending an army of Edhil to the Great Lands to chase away Morgoth's armies at last."

Eluréd groaned. "More Noldor? That is all we need!"

Celeborn shook his head. "Not merely Noldor. Vanyar…and the Valar themselves."

Elurín gave a low whistle at the mention of the Fair Elves; he had always regarded them as ethereal beings too far away to be meaningful, closer to the Valar than to those Elves he had met in reality. And as for the Valar themselves… "He may be Noldorin, but this Eärendil must nonetheless be quite someone."

"To persuade the *Vanyar* to act, yes," Eluréd replied cynically.

"You could say that," Celeborn said, with unplaceable emotions in his low voice. "He took your sister as his wife, after all."

"Elwing?" Eluréd's voice was sharp and he stared at Celeborn, momentarily stunned. She lived...but more shockingly, she had married a Noldo, after all that had happened. He wondered what had possessed her.

"She survived after all," Elurín remarked softly. "That is a thought that will bring me joy for a long time."

"You did not know?" Celeborn asked.

Eluréd shook his head. "We had thought her either slain by the Fëanorians or abandoned like us. She was so young…she never would have lived in the forest."

Celeborn nodded thoughtfully. "She escaped and fled to Sirion. But her story is tale in itself, I daresay. The matter at hand is the army that heads towards the Great Lands as we speak."

"This is going to cause some chaos," Eluréd concluded. He still looked rather distracted and kept shaking his head; the news was still sinking in. He wondered if they would ever get to see Elwing again; if so, he would have a lot of questions, he realised as he mused about this Eärendil, and how the Elf had won their sister's heart.

"Definitely," Celeborn agreed. "The question is whether you will be remaining here…or joining them."

Eluréd paused. "Why would we join them?"

"They *are* intending to defeat Morgoth," Celeborn observed.

"Would our assistance make any difference?" Elurín asked.

"If every Vanya, every Maia had said that, would there be an army headed our way? You are some of the finest archers these Nandor have ever seen…"

Elurín leaned close to Celeborn and muttered, "They said that to you?"

"They did," Celeborn replied, equally quietly. "They are greatly impressed by your abilities." Elurín raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Judging by your progress through Doriath over the last years…"

"Was it only years?" Elurín asked. "It felt like decades at times."

Celeborn chuckled. "Decades - maybe, indeed. From that time, it is clear that you are both very capable warriors, reliable and trustworthy leaders, and strong and determined people. I shall be sending an army of my own household to fight, and it would be my honour to have them fight alongside you."

Eluréd bowed his head thoughtfully, glancing over at Elurín to see what his brother thought about the matter. Elurín seemed to be considering it in some depth, brow furrowed with contemplation. In the end, the younger twin declared, "I would be prepared to join your army, but I will follow my brother's choice in this."

"Thank you for your admirable decisiveness," Eluréd told his brother, cuffing him lightly. "Very well, we shall fight."

Once more, Celeborn bowed low to them both, his immaculate robes shining strangely in the waning light. "We shall be assembling - with others - two full moons from now, along the banks of the Celon opposite Nan Elmoth. I shall be expecting you - but might I suggest that you keep your true names hidden. There is insanity in the Great Lands, and it may be that if rumours that the sons of Dior still lived reached the wrong ears, new rivalries would break out at the time when we least need it.

"I believe you are right," Eluréd agreed. "Perhaps we should introduce ourselves publicly by our mother names instead." He nodded to himself and looked thoughtful.