With Friends Like These

Author's Notes: This series starts in TA 147. Elladan and Elrohir are seventeen, Legolas is twelve. I have made one very small departure from canon, and moved Arwen's birth forward by 100 years. This was necessary so the four can grow up together in the course of this series. Don't forget, they'd appear a little younger by our standards.

Chapter One - Greenwood The Great

The group from Imladris finally crested the high pass over the Misty Mountains and began to drop down into Rhovanion. Before them, they could see the dark smudge that was Greenwood the Great.

"Look, there." Elrond pointed out their destination to his sons. "In four days we'll be in Lasgalen."

Elrohir stared at the forest that stretched away to the north and south, still two days journey away. "I never imagined it was so big," he said at last. "It's vast."

"Why do you think it's called Greenwood the Great?" asked his father.

"Is it all Thranduil's realm?" Elladan wanted to know.

"All of it," confirmed Elrond. "And don't forget, it's King Thranduil to you."

"A King." mused Elladan. "Is that more important than you, father?"

Elrond was tactful. "I'd say we're about the same." he said.

Elladan and Elrohir were awed. They had never seen such a great forest. It was far larger than anything they had ever seen before, many times the size of their grandparent's realm of Lothlorien.

As they dropped lower through the pass and further down the trail, the perspective changed, until the boundaries of Greenwood could no longer be seen. It simply filled the eastern horizon ahead of them.

Two days later they came to the eaves of the Greenwood. The trees were old, hung with lichen and creepers. Birdsong and the murmuring of a myriad insects filled the air.

Sunlight slanted through the leaves, dappling the forest floor with splashes of light.

Elrohir looked about him, open-mouthed. "It's so different to Grandmother's realm," he breathed. "But it's still beautiful."

"It's much older than Lorien." Elrond told him. "And there are many, many different types of tree here. No mallorns, though. But because there are so many trees and bushes, there are many more birds and animals here. They like the variety. And because the smaller creatures are never hunted, they have no fear of us.

They stopped that night on the path, the last night before they would reach Lasgalen. Because of the close-growing trees, nothing of the night sky could be seen.

Elrond sighed. He missed the stars. Whenever he spent a night beneath the open sky, he would look upward at the stars. They were all beautiful. Always, first, he would gaze on Eärendil. The evening star. Flame of the West. His father. Always there, looking down on him, his sons and daughter. Even when obscured by clouds, or, as tonight, hidden from sight, it was still there.

As they settled for the night, Elrond went over to where Elladan and Elrohir lay near the fire, already wrapped in their cloaks.

"When we arrive tomorrow, you must greet King Thranduil properly. And his son. Remember your manners, now. No tricks!"

"Of course not." said Elrohir virtuously.

"We'll behave." added Elladan.

Elrond stifled a sense of foreboding. It wasn't what they actually said, but something in their manner that worried him. He just hoped he was mistaken.

The next morning, he was too busy with last-minute preparations, sending out scouts to warn of their imminent arrival, to take too much notice of the twins, riding at the head of the group. As they passed beneath the boundary trees, he joined Elladan and Elrohir at the head of the procession.

As they left the trees, and came into the open clearing that lay before the palace, Elrond glanced at his sons.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Yes, father," they said simultaneously. As one, they unfastened the clasps that held their cloaks closed, and flicked back the folds.

Elrond stifled a sigh. He had known they were up to something.

The twins were dressed identically. Both wore tunics of midnight blue, with an undertunic of paler periwinkle. They wore low boots of black suede, and trousers of fine, dark leather. They had even styled their hair in the same way - usually Elladan favoured several narrow braids, while Elrohir would have his hair loose.

When they did this, even he and Celebrían had trouble telling them apart. Funnily enough, although they had tried, they had never fooled Arwen. It was degrading to ask such a small child which of his sons he was looking at, but he had had to on occasion.

It did not bode well for Thranduil.

"I told you, no tricks!" Elrond said now.

"Tricks, father? We're not doing anything! Are we, El?" said - Elrohir?

He thought so, but could not be certain. The habit they had of calling one another 'El' made it even harder to catch them out. It was too late now to reprimand them, anyway, as Thranduil himself was waiting on the far side of the bridge that crossed a tributary of the Forest River.

Elrond crossed the bridge and dismounted. At a nod from their father, Elladan and Elrohir did the same, then bowed.

"My Lord, King Thranduil, I bring greetings from Imladris. May I present my sons" - here he took a long look at the twin on the right - "Elladan and Elrohir."

He thought he had them the right way round, but it was difficult to be sure. It didn't really matter, anyway - Thranduil would never be able to tell the difference.

The king blinked, a little bemused at the fearful symmetry in front of him. Beside him, his own son was wide-eyed in astonishment.

"Lord Elrond, Lords Elladan and Elrohir. Welcome to Greenwood the Great. This is my son, and my heir, Prince Legolas. I trust you had a safe journey?"

Beside him, Legolas bowed to Elrond. "Welcome to our kingdom, my Lords."

Once the formalities were over, more friendly greetings were exchanged. Elves from both realms welcomed old friends, some whom they had not seen for many years, and much gossip and news was exchanged.

Legolas escorted Elladan and Elrohir to the room they would use, just down the hallway from their father, then disappeared. The twins inspected their quarters. Because of the number of guests, it was necessary for them to share a room. Elladan immediately crossed to the bed nearest the window, and sat on it.

"This is mine," he announced.

"That's not fair! Why do you get first choice?"

"Because. So you have that bed." He pointed at the other one. "And shut the door."

"Stop telling me what to do!" exclaimed Elrohir hotly.

"I'm allowed to. I'm the eldest. So you do what I tell you, little brother." Elladan knew how much that epithet annoyed his twin.

They were still arguing when Elrond came in, accompanied by Erestor, to inspect their room.

"It's not fair! Father, why can Elladan order me around just because he's the eldest?"

"Well, I think he's the eldest, anyway." said Elrond absently. Beside him, Erestor threw him a startled glance.

"What? Father, what do you mean?" Elladan sounded worried.

"You two were even more alike when you were first born. It's possible we got you muddled up. Things were a little - confused - at the time. Perhaps Elrohir was born first. I'm really not sure."

Elrohir's eye were alight with the possibilities. "You mean I might be the eldest? Did you hear that, Elladan?" he crowed.

Erestor schooled himself to look very grave. Internally he was laughing uproariously at Elladan's stunned expression.

"That may indeed be possible. I recall Lord Elrond was more than a little flustered then. He came out of the room with you both and told me your names, but which was which - I really couldn't say." He shook his head sadly.

"But father ..." protested Elladan.

"I'm sorry, Elladan, I'm really not sure. Maybe your mother will remember. I'll ask her when we return. In the meantime, you can't assume you're eldest. So stop telling Elrohir what to do!"

With that, Elrond turned, and left the room, leaving the twins staring after him in stunned amazement.

Elladan moved across to the bed he had claimed. Silently he gathered up his belongings into a bundle.

"Come on. You can have the bed. I'm sorry, El," he said quietly.

Elrohir gave his brother a long look. "No. You stay there. It doesn't matter, does it? It's not important. It doesn't make any difference who's eldest. Not to us."

"Do you think father was serious?"

Elrohir considered the possibility. "I don't know. I think so. And Erestor wouldn't make it up, would he? He just wouldn't!"

Elladan sighed. "You're right. It doesn't matter. I don't care what mother says when we get home. It's not important."

There was a knock at the door then. Elrohir, who was nearest, opened it. Legolas stood there.

"Elladan? My father sent me to ask you to come down. We're meeting in the Great Hall before supper. Are you ready?"

"Yes, we're ready. But I'm Elrohir."

~~*~~

Downstairs, all was ready for the feast. The guests gathered in the Great Hall, mingling with the elves of Greenwood. Minstrels played softly and sang in the background. Later, after the meal, the music would become more lively, suitable for dancing and merrymaking.

At the feast, Legolas was seated between Elladan and Elrohir. He looked at them surreptitiously, trying to work out which was which. It was no good, they were identical down their straight black hair, their clothing, and even a small enamelled brooch depicting a tiny golden flower.

But then he noticed one tiny difference. It would be of no use in the long term, but could be useful tonight. One of the twins had a smudge of dirt on his face. If he could find out who that was ...

He passed a platter of bread along the table.

"Bread, Elladan?"

"Thank you. But I'm Elrohir."

Legolas gave him a long look. He could have sworn that the same twin had just claimed to be Elladan. Come to think of it, every time he addressed either of them, he was corrected. Surely chance dictated that he would get it right some of the time?

Elrond noticed his frustration, and unobtrusively came to the rescue. Retrieving a napkin which had fallen to the floor, he returned it to his son.

"Is this yours, Elladan?"

He took it automatically. "Thank you, father."

Legolas shot him a triumphant look. It was Elladan. That meant Elrohir was the one with the smudge.

There were no problems for the rest of the evening, not even when Legolas left his seat to speak to his father.

"El! Quick, swap seats! Before he comes back!" Elrohir hissed.

Elladan gave a snort of laughter and swiftly moved. When Legolas returned he resumed his seat, but did not appear to notice anything amiss.

"My father has suggested that we ride out tomorrow so that I can show you the forest. Would you like to do that?"

Elrohir nodded enthusiastically. "That sounds a good idea! El? What do you think?"

Legolas turned to the other twin. "Yes, Elladan, do you want to come?" His tone made it clear he knew precisely who he was talking to.

Elladan gaped at him, but then grinned. "All right. It sounds fun. And no more tricks, I promise."

This visit could prove to be very interesting.

To Be Continued