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"Valar, armies make a mess," Elurín remarked. Footprints ran everywhere for miles around; the twins had no need to cover their tracks for their own marks would be lost among myriad others'. "Well, at least we know we are close."
"I can smell the campfires from here," Eluréd said quietly. "They are nearby."
Indeed, they came across the sentries within half an hour. Or rather, they caught sight of the sentries at the same time as the sentries caught sight of them. "What is your business?" the stern-looking Elf demanded.
"We are here to join you," Eluréd said. "We are allies of Lord Celeborn."
"Celeborn?" said the sentry sceptically. "I will have to see what my Lord thinks of you, then."
"Very well," Eluréd agreed, meekly following the sentry through the thinning trees.
Celeborn greeted them with hot mulled wine and a broad smile. "It gladdens my heart to see that you still came," he declared, handing them goblets. "As you are no doubt aware, we have gathered some support for the cause. Hopefully the army of the Valar will appreciate our help."
"And if they do not?" Eluréd asked curiously; planning for the worst case scenario, as always.
"Then," Celeborn said, smiling, "we go home and get drunk in celebration of not having to fight."
Elurín shrugged and looked across at his brother. "Sounds like a fine enough idea to me. When do we get going?"
"You have only just arrived," Celeborn remarked with a chuckle. "Rest, eat, relax before then. I will have a tent readied for you."
"No, don't," Eluréd said quickly. "I prefer to sleep in the open."
Celeborn raised an eyebrow. "As you wish. And your brother?"
"I will stay with him," Elurín replied quietly.
The Sindarin Lord nodded. "I shall have food brought to you. We break camp in a few days; I am still expecting - or rather, hoping for - the arrival of perhaps another three hundred Elves, and somewhere between three and eight hundred Men."
"How many do you have already?" Elurín asked, feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the figures. He had not paused to consider how large Celeborn's army might be - and surely the Valar's army would be the same size or even larger. He wondered how many Elves lived in Beleriand these days; in spite of the heavy losses to Morgoth, there must be a great number, he supposed.
"Around fifteen hundred," Celeborn replied. He sounded a little disappointed. "I had been hoping for nearly three thousand. But we shall make do with those we have, make better use of opportunity, stealth and rapid retreats."
Elurín had never seen one and a half thousand Elves before - he certainly never saw so many gathered together in Menegroth at one time. The battle was going to be something he would not easily forget, he concluded.
"I am sorry, Celeborn, but I cannot do this." Elurín sighed and adjusted the bow across his back for the eighth time in two minutes.
"Elurín, listen to me: I have faith in you. I trust you, and I am certain that you have the ability."
Elurín shook his head again in firm denial. "What do I know of battles and strategies? I am used to working by stealth, following tracks, waiting for the perfect moment to spring."
"You led the Nandor and they followed you willingly, without question. You and your brother are at least as good as any of my own archers, and better than most of them. To have you in command of a regiment of my bowmen would mean I could feel confident that best use was being made of them."
"Why not Eluréd? He is the elder…"
"If I had approached Eluréd, what would he have said?"
The younger twin paused for a moment, thinking carefully. "He would either have refused outright, saying that it was neither his duty nor his responsibility, or he would have accepted the task whether he felt he could manage it or not. If he thought he could not do it but felt he should, he would be too proud and stubborn to admit the task was too daunting.."
"Precisely. So why did I not ask Eluréd?" Celeborn asked rhetorically.
Elurín sighed and nodded, conceding the point. "I still do not think I am the one to which you should entrust this task. I would not wish to carry the burden of knowing that I failed your trust through my own inexperience or incompetence. Who leads your archers within your own realm?"
The elder Elf laughed gently. "I have never attempted to amass all five hundred of them in one place before! The sentries are used to leading no more then twenty; the most experienced sometimes taught classes of up to thirty-five. But in the past, if more than that have been required, where possible I would lead them myself."
"I see," Elurín replied. "And you trust me as much as your own sentries?" He shook his head, not quite convinced.
"I trusted your great grandfather implicitly, and your father also. I am willing to believe that you and your brother have inherited the best of their traits. It is a pity that you never met King Thingol. He was proud and stubborn, but he cared deeply for his people."
"Adar said that about him too," Elurín agreed. "He also said that he was as pigheaded as anyone he had ever known."
"Oh, he was!" Celeborn confirmed, laughing. "The kind of Elf who would do something precisely because he had been told it was impossible…who would refuse to do something simply because he had been told that he 'must'."
"We all know what the result of *that* was," Eluréd remarked, entering. "Am I missing anything important? I heard that you had asked for my brother to come and see you." Suspicion flashed in his eyes.
Elurín reached out two fingers to stroke his brother's cheek gently. "It is fine, Eluréd. Celeborn just wanted to ask me something…no, we are not plotting against you." His mild, jesting tone seemed to calm his brother's concerns and Eluréd merely raised an eyebrow. "Come, Eluréd; it is late, and we should get some sleep."
"Elurín?" Celeborn asked softly before they disappeared.
Elurín paused in the entrance to the large tent and frowned, still unsure and uncomfortable. "Let me think on it tonight and I shall give you a definite answer tomorrow."
"So this is it," Elurín whispered. "They are calling it the War of Wrath already, and the fighting has not even begun." Reports had just come in that the host of the Valar was barely half a day's march away - and, at the same time, reports had arrived warning of Morgoth's armies closing from two, possibly three, sides.
A bright star hung just above the horizon, towards the West. Ever since its first appearance - it had not always been there - the twins had found their eyes drawn to it often, on nights such as these. They derived a sense of comfort from it, as if somehow it was watching over them, and sometimes Eluréd would sit watching it for hours when sleep evaded him. Only later would they discover why they felt such familiarity from it, almost kinship - this night, they simply looked for it when they emerged from the cover of the trees, and their minds eased a little to see it shining there in the night sky.
Eluréd continued onward, walking beside his brother. He was silent and, as Elurín put it, brooding. Elurín had finally, after much coaxing, confessed to Eluréd what Celeborn had spoken to him about, and the elder twin was now left wondering what had driven Celeborn to approach Elurín and not him. But Elurín had refused the assignment. This intrigued him more; their allies the Nandor would have followed Elurín to Angband itself without argument, so why had Elurín declined to lead Celeborn's regiment?
Warm fingers brushed his hand and Elurín's voice spoke softly beside his ear. "Stop brooding. We are doing the right thing."
Eluréd nodded mute agreement, not wanting to argue. He was not afraid, but his mind refused to look so far ahead as to be able to imagine the aftermath of the War. He honestly could not guess what the outcome would be. "I do it for our family," he replied.
Eluréd had never had the opportunity to behold a Vanya before, never mind one of the Valar themselves. Now he saw both, and they took his breath away; the sight of the magnificent beings managed to render even Elurín speechless. His great grandmother, Melian, had been the closest thing to what he now saw - as a child, he had thought her easily the most beautiful person in the world - but the host that ranged across the hillside was something different. The warriors wore armour inlaid with gold and thousands upon thousands of tiny jewels that glittered so brightly in the sunlight that he could barely look directly at them. Everything about them was so clean, efficient, beautiful and perfect.
It made him feel outright embarrassed to be in their presence. Compared to them, he was nothing. They would probably laugh at him and regard him with a superior and rather patronising air.
"You are brooding again," Elurín said later that evening as they sat cross-legged on the floor of the tent - Celeborn had finally convinced Eluréd that sleeping outside in heavy rain when warm, dry tents were available was pointless - picking at bread.
"I am not brooding," Eluréd replied. "I am thinking."
Elurín returned a withering look. "What are you 'thinking' about?"
"This." Eluréd's gesture included the Beleriand host, the Vanyar, the Valar and even the tent in which they sat. "Them."
"Hmmm?" Elurín raised an eyebrow in question.
"What do the Vanyar think of us?" When Elurín did not answer instantly, he continued, "They probably think we are uncouth, helpless fools. I feel as if they are our nursemaids, coming to rescue us from the trouble the Great Lands have got themselves into."
"Is that so bad?"
"I dislike their interference."
"Brother, Morgoth casts a shadow over all of Ennor. There are no true sanctuaries left; according to Celeborn, all the great Elven strongholds have now fallen. At the end of this war, the Great Lands will be free again."
"And if we lose?" Eluréd looked at his twin. "What if even this is not enough?"
Elurín hesitated. "Do you think that we are likely to lose?"
"I do not know."
Lips touched his cheek and grey eyes met his. Elurín leaned in to kiss his brother briefly, tenderly. "I do not think we will lose," he whispered. "Yet whatever happens, I will still have you."
"And I you," Eluréd replied, forcing a reassuring smile. "We will get through this, will we not, if we stay together?" Drawing the knife from his belt, he cut off one of his straggly braids and knotted it securely round his brother's wrist. "I am with you," he said.
Elurín examined the dark bracelet, touching the hairs lovingly, then carefully severed one of his own braids and pressed it into his brother's hand. "Wear it?"
Eluréd nodded and held out his wrist for the younger twin to fasten it round; Elurín wound and knotted the ends together, making certain that it was quite secure and would not come loose. Eluréd was amused by the difference in texture; Elurín's was hair noticeably coarser than his. He laid his hand over the bracelet, knowing that this way his brother was always near.