Chapter 15, All's Well...

Time stopped as father and son stayed locked in a tight embrace, oblivious to the rest of the world as they held on to each other. Elrohir rejoiced in the secure feeling of those loving arms enveloping him—in his father's arms, he was safe. Nothing more could harm him. And Elrond was still stunned at finding his son so unexpectedly returned to him. He was overwhelmingly happy, but a small part of him also held a fear that this might just be a dream and that, if he let Elrohir go, he might suddenly awaken to find the familiar darkness of loss. Thus Elrond was especially hard pressed to release his son—as far as he was concerned, the rest of Rivendell could take care of itself. For now, his only thoughts were for the child that was miraculously before him.

At long last, though, Elrohir gently pushed back and untangled himself from his father's arms. The two then gazed at each other, neither one able to find the words they needed to say. Elrohir had so much to tell his father, but couldn't imagine where he should start. And Elrond had so many questions—so many things he wanted to know. Finally, as he gazed into the clear eyes of his son, the one foremost on his mind just had to be asked.

"Elrohir, you remember?" he asked as more of a statement than a question.

Elrohir grasped his father's hand and gently squeezed. "Aye, Ada, I do indeed," he said with a tired smile.

At those words, Elrond bowed his head and breathed deeply—just to have Elrohir back would have been cause for rejoicing, but to also find him fully restored was pure miracle and he fought an urge to weep. "Thank the Valar," he whispered and then looked back up at his son. "But how? Elrohir, where have you been?" he asked.

Elrohir shrugged slightly and grimaced, not quite knowing where to start. Yes, he desperately wanted his father's help in finding a purpose to his suffering, but now that he was facing him, realized that he wasn't up to walking that shadowy path just yet. Instead, he chose to deflect the question for now and said, "It is a rather long story, Ada. But first...first there is something I must know."

With his father's encouraging nod, he asked with an unhappy frown, "The man in your chambers...what is he doing here?"

The nasty trader was the furthest thing from Elrond's mind, so he didn't answer for a moment as his mind changed gears. Thinking about it now, it became obvious that Elrohir had known Robard. But how could he? Wishing he knew about their past history before he responded, he nonetheless answered honestly, "Belder came across him in Willowpond, where there were rumors of him finding a wounded elf. From the description, we believed it might be you and were questioning him."

The young elf lord looked down for a moment, trying to keep his emotions in check as he worked through what this might mean. Just seeing the man had brought up so many unwanted memories—memories that he really didn't feel like facing just now. But he wasn't his father's son for nothing and within a short time, conceded that regardless of his wishes, he would have to find a way to deal with the horrid man.

Thus, when Elrohir looked back up, he seemed to be perfectly calm. But Elrond noted that despite a firm control, there was still the memory of past hurt in his son's face. Hurt that he so desperately wanted to make go away. He reached out and took Elrohir's hand and started to say that he would take care of the trader later, but his son pulled away and pursued his questions, "But what is he doing here? Belder could have questioned him in Willowpond, could he not?"

Elrond shook his head slightly as he thought about his response. He didn't really want to discuss the sordid man's greed with his newly returned son. He had no idea what Elrohir's state of mind was and didn't want to upset him, but whatever the consequences, he knew Elrohir deserved the truth. He looked straight at his son and said matter-of-factly, "He would not tell Belder anything. He said he would only negotiate with one in charge and required payment before he would divulge anything. Thus Belder brought him here to speak to me."

"I see," said the young elf in a tight voice. Then he added, "Could the elf he spoke of be Elladan? I understand that he is not currently here."

Elrond started in surprise. He hadn't considered that Elladan might be the one in trouble. He thought back to all the man had said and reluctantly admitted, "He did not specify exactly when he came across the elf. Indeed," he added with a touch of alarm, "he said the only word the elf had spoken was "Dan," so...it is possible that he has found your brother."

"Dan," Elrohir repeated through clenched teeth. "That is all I said in his presence."

Confused, Elrond asked, "What do you mean? Elrohir, what is your history with this man?"

Elrond could see the battle Elrohir once more waged to keep his emotions in check before he answered in a voice carefully devoid of feeling, "He is the slave trader who took me across the continent and sold me to Lord Hebert. And although I suppose he may have found Elladan...or even some other elf...I do not believe this to be the case. Knowing him as I do, I believe he heard Belder asking questions about me and, remembering me from before, used this opportunity for further gain. Of course, I imagine that he failed to mention to you that it was years ago that this all happened and that he had sold me in the meantime."

A million questions flew through Elrond's mind as he sifted through all of the implications of Elrohir's words, but his shock at Elrohir's return was at last wearing off and his instincts as a healer finally reasserted themselves. Before considering what to do about Robard, he realized he had a more immediate need. First and by far the most important, he needed to see to Elrohir's well-being. His son may not be gravely injured, but from the utterly weary stance and the thin, bruised look of his face, it was apparent that the young elf could use some careful attention. So now that Elrohir's account suggested that the greedy man was no more than an opportunistic extortionist, thoughts of him could be put aside. He could be dealt with once Elrohir had been taken care of.

"Elrohir," he said gently, "I will see to him later, but for now I would have you come with me to the infirmary. I would ensure you are well."

"No, Ada," said Elrohir, shaking his head. "Although I would not have chosen this moment to confront him, fate has put that odious man in my path and I wish to deal with him at once. I would not have thoughts of him marring my return."

He turned toward the door of the council chamber, only to be stopped by a hand on his arm. "Elrohir," protested his father, concerned at how weak his son appeared. "You are weary. Please. Come with me now. I will take care of Robard after I have seen to your needs."

"No, Ada," said Elrohir simply. "My need is to face the first of my demons." And at that, he pulled away from his father and drew himself up to his full height, weariness vanishing as he tapped into some hidden reservoir of strength. The hard look and battle-readiness that infused his being took Elrond by surprise. Too often he was guilty of seeing his sons only as his children and tended to forget that they were some of Arda's most fearsome warriors. But as he studied the young elf before him, he realized that the tired elf who was grateful for a father's embrace had withdrawn and left in his place a deadly warrior ready to undertake a mission.

Recognizing his son's right to exact his own justice, Elrond nodded slowly and then stepped away from the door, waving his son in.

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While Elrond and Elrohir were having their reunion in the hall, there were a few interesting developments inside the council rooms as well. After Elrond had been pulled from the room and the door closed, Robard, brazen as ever had stated firmly, "Well, this is certainly a remarkable surprise! My dear wife must have sent your friend home once she had healed him sufficiently. How wonderful for all! Now, if you could just hand over what is due me, I will be on my way."

Glorfindel, who had been staring at the door, turned back to the disagreeable man with a glare, "That was not Lord Elrohir, but his twin brother, Lord Elladan. Who, I am certain, will suffer no more delays in securing the safe return of his brother. If you do not cooperate immediately, I assure you that he will not be as...diplomatic...as his father."

Robard regarded the formidable elf glaring at him, but far from being alarmed, Robard breathed an internal sigh of relief as he realized that it wasn't his former captive who had just walked through the door. For a ghastly moment he had been certain that his game was finally up, but it seemed that Dame Fortune was smiling on him once more and he may still be able to work things to his advantage. Never one to overlook any angle, the trader said haughtily, "I thank you for your 'concern,' but when your young Lord Elladan hears of my dear wife's tender care for his brother, I have no doubt that I will be the recipient of even more gratitude as he finds his own way to express his appreciation for all our hard work."

At that, Belder, who had been listening silently, couldn't help an involuntary sound of utter disgust and then walked rapidly to the window, where he leaned against the sill and stared out at the trees beyond. He had been certain that this nasty man would be able to give them some kind of clue as to his friend's whereabouts, but now he wasn't sure. Something didn't quite ring true.

The young warrior sat tiredly down on the window seat as he thought about what he should do next. He'd already made arrangements at the stables to start out again tomorrow, but hadn't decided in which direction he should go. He sighed in weary frustration. In Elladan's absence he was in charge of a major part of the search party and the responsibility for finding his friend—and his lack of success—was weighing heavily upon him. As he thought about Elladan, his attention turned back to the present and the trader, who was still prattling on about how Elladan would be sure to reward him for all his hard work. Belder wanted nothing more than to shut him up by putting his fist into the man's mouth, but had reluctantly conceded that Lord Elrond would not want him to interfere. Still, how dare that insufferable creature even think to try to squeeze 'appreciation' from Elladan?! His friend had suffered enough and Belder couldn't bear to see him subjected to the greedy fool's manipulations. He just hoped that Lord Elrond or Glorfindel would prevent that, for he wasn't sure he'd be able to control his temper if the little worm was allowed to bother Elladan.

Just then, though, the door flew open and in walked Elrond and his son. To the surprise of the elves in the room, however, Elrond did not take charge, but instead stood by the door while the younger lord strode toward Robard with grim purpose.

Glorfindel's eyebrows shot up in stunned astonishment as he saw the expression on Elladan's face. The twins had never, to his recollection, slipped into that frame of being that he could only call 'battle mode' here at home, but the older warrior recognized the look and knew that Elladan was about to take on Robard—and he was most assuredly not planning to be diplomatic.

Many of the other elves in the room were also shocked to see their young lord thus. They were used to seeing the twins undertake many different roles: as hard-working extensions of their father, skilled diplomats, decisive leaders, or even light-hearted youngsters. And while they were aware of the twins' additional responsibility as protectors of Imladris, most had never had had the chance to see either of them fulfill that particular function.

Belder, however, had fought alongside the twins frequently over the years and viewed his friend's entrance with satisfaction. Obviously Elladan had things well in hand and would not be rewarding Robard's odious behavior with any 'additional gratitude.'

As for Robard, for all his bluster, he was actually quite shrewd and he knew the second the young elf entered the room that he was in serious trouble. As the elf approached him with a hard look on his face, Robard began to back up nervously and for the first time in decades, actually felt fear in the pit of his stomach as he watched the tall, menacing elf approach.

"Elladan," warned Glorfindel and started toward his old charge. He wondered why Elrond had not made a move to stop him, but he himself was unwilling to stand by and watch Elladan destroy their chance to pry the secret of Elrohir's location from Robard. Surely they must realize how much bargaining power Robard still had, since he was the only one who could help them find Elrohir.

But the look that the young elf gave Glorfindel stopped him in his tracks with a quick indrawn breath. The expression on the other's face and indeed his whole demeanor was not that of his old pupil nor even that of the young friend he had become. Nay...this was the look of an elven lord who was irritated at being interrupted. One more first for the day, thought Glorfindel, since neither of the twins had ever turned that particular expression on him before.

Cold, hard, and completely in control, the younger elf said firmly, "Stand fast, Glorfindel. I know what I do."

Glorfindel studied his old student for a moment and then stepped back, smiling grimly. Yes, he nodded, this young son of Elrond quite clearly had things under control. He folded his arms across his chest and then waited with keen interest to see how Elladan would take care of the loathsome man.

But there was one shocking surprise left, of course, which was quickly revealed when the imposing young elf finally reached Robard, who had backed himself up all the way to the wall. Grasping the man by the front of his tunic and pinning him to the wall, he asked in a deadly voice, "Do you know who I am?"

Squirming but determined to keep up his bravado, Robard shot back in a rude voice, "Some elf named 'Elladan.'"

"Wrong answer!" was the response, accompanied by a slam against the wall. "For the likes of you, the name would be Lord Elladan. But even that would be wrong, for it is the name of my brother. I am Elrohir, and even if you do not remember me, you can be sure that I remember you quite well!"

Neither Elrohir nor Robard heard any of the loud gasps and exclamations that followed Elrohir's proclamation, as they found themselves in a world that consisted for the moment of only the two of them.

"You can't be! You were left..." Robard trailed off with a touch of panic finally entering his voice.

"Oh yes," hissed Elrohir. "You remember where you left me. After you dragged me across the continent and finally tired of tormenting me, you sold me into slavery—an abomination that few have the stomach for. Not many are heartless enough to sell an immortal into an eternity of suffering. But you had no problem leaving me to that endless hell, did you? Well, perhaps I should return the favor and find a similar place for you."

The other elves in the room stood in frozen silence as they watched, fascinated to see their young lord show a harshness that only his fellow warriors had truly seen in the past. It was almost with a sense of denial that they tried to reconcile the elf they saw before them with the elf that they remembered. Was this really supposed to be Elrohir, the younger, gentler twin? The fun-loving sprite who was always ready with an easy smile? How could this...this unyielding force be the same elf?

Elrohir relentlessly continued, "Now I want the truth. Did you find another elf or were you speaking of me? Trying to use our previous encounter to line your pockets with more gold?"

When Robard said nothing, Elrohir leaned forward until he was just inches from the man's face and hissed, "Tell me."

In a voice made weak from fright, Robard squeaked, "It was you. Only you."

Elrohir drew back, satisfied that this despicable creature did not have his brother or any other hapless elf. Then he continued in a scathing tone, "As I thought—motivated only by greed. But you are fortunate you hold no others, for I would see you dead before I would allow you to sell another of my kind. Perhaps it would be just if your fate were to be sold as well. As you did to me, I could find for you a place where you are beaten for not working hard enough, and then starved when your fellow workers think you work too hard. Perhaps you would enjoy being chained to a wall and forced to wallow in filth for daring to show that you can think. Aye...perhaps there is a place where you will be drugged till you lose all sense of self and find yourself unwittingly doing anything you are told. Indeed...it would be justice to find such a place for you."

Belder grinned in sheer joy and gave a short laugh when he saw a telltale wet spot form on the front of Robard's breeches at Elrohir's words. The offensive human was finally showing an appropriate understanding of the possible consequences of his actions. Betraying and blackmailing elven kind was not to be undertaken lightly.

Elrohir didn't laugh or even smile, though. He glanced down at the puddle forming at the man's feet and then simply looked back into the face of the man who had been so cruel to a sick, injured captive. This man had taken sadistic pleasure in hurting Elrohir and then left him to a fate where death would have been a welcome release. Thus, he had earned his hatred a hundred times over. But that wasn't what infuriated the elven lord now.

Speaking once more in the unfamiliar, harsh tone, Elrohir said, "I despise you. For your unrelenting brutality when I was wounded and ill, I loathe you. But it is for the offense you bring to my home today that you have earned my undying hatred and must be made to pay. How dare you," he punctuated his words by once more slamming his captive into the wall, "come into my home and cause my family more pain? You add to their grief all in the name of greed. You would have awakened their hopes only to dash them to pieces. What would you have told them when you could not lead them to me? How would you have lessened their pain when they found yet another dead end? Your very presence here offends me...nothing more than a disgusting, worthless parasite on this land who should not be allowed to live!"

At that, Robard audibly whimpered and would have collapsed to the floor if not for Elrohir's firm grip. None of the other elves, even Belder, laughed this time at the man's obvious fear. They could feel the tightly leashed fury in their young lord and all waited tensely to see what he would do next. Although none would hesitate to cut down the repulsive man in a fight, it was not the way of the Firstborn to slaughter an unarmed opponent and none wanted to see Elrohir take that first step into a merciless void. None moved to interfere, however, as they afforded him the right to make his own choice and, if truth be told, the young elf before them suddenly seemed very foreign and none wanted to be the one to attract his deadly gaze.

"You should not be allowed to live," repeated Elrohir, his face once more just inches away from Robard's, "but it is not within me to kill in cold blood, even a worm such as yourself."

Once again not hearing the collective sigh of relief in the room, Elrohir continued, "But your offenses cannot go unanswered, thus you must still be punished for your crimes."

He tightened his grasp even more but moved slightly back before saying in a harsh voice, "During our long journey, I listened to you brag to your fellows of the many people you have destroyed through your wicked schemes. Time and again you ruined innocents in your quest for fortune and power. Thus, for your misdeeds against your own kind and your crime of extortion against my family, you will forfeit that which you hold most dear—the very fortune and power that you covet. You will go from here and return to your home, where you will take all your misbegotten gains and return them to those you have hurt. And anything that you cannot return you must give away to someone...anyone deserving. Do you understand?"

Robard froze for a moment in shock. Of all the things that the elf could have done to him, this was unthinkable. The implications were staggering! Without the gold that he used to pay off his men, they would instantly desert him. He wasn't stupid enough to think that they followed out of any sense of loyalty—he was ruined! It would have been kinder for the elf to simply cut his throat! Frantically looking around the room, trying to think of anything that might change his fate, he made a desperate attempt to gain sympathy from some of the other elves and attempted, "You...you would not be so cruel to my poor wife. How would I care for her if I gave everything away?"

No one missed the look of utter disgust on Elrohir's face. Shaking his head he growled, "Apparently you think me a total fool! Have you forgotten all the months I spent with you? How many times did you laugh about deserting your wife years ago? 'The stupid little cow,' I believe you called her. Now that you mention her, however, I agree that she deserves to be supported. So she will be one of those who is to receive your wealth, understood?"

Robard's response could best be described as a whimper. This was a disaster! How could he have ended up in this situation? Surely there was something else he could do. He stared at Elrohir like a trapped rabbit while his brain frantically searched for a miracle.

But Elrohir was tired of dealing with this repulsive man and said, "You are not answering properly. I ask only one more time...do you understand what you are to do?"

With a feeling of doom, Robard suddenly realized his defeat. There was no choice left but to concede. Swallowing deeply to prevent himself from the further humiliation of throwing up all over himself, he slowly nodded.

Elrohir narrowed his eyes and regarded Robard, trying to determine his sincerity. When he was convinced that the man finally understood his fate, he added, "I will give you two weeks to complete this task and then at a place and time of my choosing, I will seek you out and you will answer to me. If I find that you still possess one thing that you have earned through your abuse of others, I will make sure that you suffer the same fate to which you condemned me. And do not think to run. If you do not follow my directions precisely, I will track you down and hunt you like the beast that you are. Do you understand?" he asked again.

Once more Robard nodded and gulped as he read the message in the coldly angry eyes. This elf was hardly the same weak captive that he had enjoyed tormenting and then had sold for a healthy profit. No, this elf was a strong, fierce warrior who he knew could have broken him in half with hardly any effort. This elf also promised a lifetime of being hunted if he was foolish enough to not abide by his sentence. He whimpered as he thought about all that he had...gone. How could he bear to live in poverty? How could he live without his things and the power they gave him? But he dare not consider defying the mighty being that stood before him.

Elrohir then abruptly let Robard go and walked a couple of steps away, clenching his fists as he seemed to battle with himself. Then, without warning, he spun around and crashed his fist into Robard's jaw. "I owed you at least one!" he ground out as the stunned man staggered against the wall. "Now get out of my home!" he ordered.

No one said a word as Robard stumbled from the room, in shock from the sudden turn of events.

In truth, most of the elves seemed in shock themselves. Just minutes ago they had been trying to gain information of the whereabouts of an elf, who, they all secretly admitted to themselves, was probably no more than a mindless shell. But now that selfsame elf stood before them, full of righteous fury and power, almost unrecognizable as the kind, lovable elf that they'd watch grow up.

Once the door closed behind Robard, however, all the fight seemed to drain out of Elrohir and before their eyes, he became the familiar young elf they'd known for millennia. His eyes frantically sought his father's as he began to sway—the energy he'd summoned from his deepest reserves deserting him and leaving him dangerously drained.

The battle to stay upright was lost almost immediately and he slowly began to slide to the floor. But before he could hit, Elrond, who had been expecting this collapse, was at his son's side and caught him in strong arms.

"Ada," protested Elrohir weakly as his father lifted him up into his arms instead of helping him to the floor.

"Hush," gently admonished Elrond with smile. "This is something that I need to do."

Elrohir's tired brain took a moment to remember his earlier conversation with his father and then surrendered gracefully once he recalled their words. He knew there would be no winning the argument and besides, he decided that he really didn't want to.

"Very well, Ada," Elrohir murmured with a touch of a grin and then turned his face into his father's shoulder and promptly fell asleep.

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Complete silence blanketed the room as all stared at their lord, gently holding the young elf that many had never thought to see again.

Finally, Erestor, who was the first to regain his voice, asked, "Lord Elrond, where did he come from? How is it that Elrohir has returned?"

But the Lord of Rivendell had little answers for anyone yet, and so simply shook his head and said, "I know not what to tell you. I can only relate what he told me—that he has regained his memories. He did not tell me how that happened or even where he's been. To hear the rest of his story, I fear we will all have to wait until he awakens."

"But is he injured, my lord? He seemed so strong just a moment ago," noted an anxious Belder, who had been overjoyed at the return of his old friend, but now terribly upset to see him slumped unconscious in his father's arms.

"I believe he is simply exhausted. I can sense no great damage that some well-deserved pampering cannot cure," began Elrond with a small hug for his sleeping son, "although I will go to the infirmary now and examine him to make sure."

With those words, Elrond turned and headed for the doors, pausing only to allow Glorfindel to open the door for him. The mighty warrior looked down at the sleeping elf and then gave Elrond a brilliant smile. For the first time since Elrohir had disappeared three years ago, Glorfindel had the feeling that everything would turn out all right, and his smile reflected that joy. Elrond acknowledged the unspoken thought with a smile of his own for his old friend, and then left the council chambers, quietly carrying his sleeping boy out the door.

As he walked quickly through the halls, his eyes stayed on his son's face. Who knew what trials Elrohir had endured during his latest absence. True, he had sensed no great physical harm to his body, but Elrond still held a great, secret dread that this latest suffering may prove too much for Elrohir to have come through unscathed—he had seen the hint of hurt in Elrohir's eyes and feared that his spirit had endured too much to remain undamaged. The thought was unbearable and he fought to keep it from dampening his elation at Elrohir's return. Finally arriving at his infirmary, though, he decided not to borrow trouble and, with a kiss on his son's forehead for luck, pushed his way through the door.

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It was several hours before Elrohir finally awoke from his unexpected nap—hours in which word spread throughout all of Imladris, prompting a spontaneous celebration as the inhabitants rejoiced in the return of their prince, although quietly so as not to wake him.

When the subject of that celebration at last pulled away from the dreams softening his sleep, he was not immediately aware of where he was. While he lay there, half asleep and half awake, his first sense was of the soft, comfortable bed beneath him. Then he breathed in the clean, fresh air and flexed his stiff shoulders, trying to loosen the too-tight muscles. It was at that point that he realized with a start that he was breathing fresh air and his movements were no longer limited by tight bindings. With a gasp, his eyes flew all the way open and he sat up abruptly, looking about the room wildly.

Nindal, who had been just a few feet away, came over to his bed and gripped his arm gently.

"Be at ease, Elrohir," he said kindly. "You are home...and safe."

Elrohir blinked for a moment as he convinced himself that this was not a dream. That he was truly home. Finally, when Nindal's hovering presence stayed put and didn't dissolve into his usual nightmare, he allowed himself to tentatively believe and asked, "What happened? How did I come to be here?"

"Do you not remember?" Nindal asked carefully.

Elrohir swiftly sifted through his memories and answered, "I...I remember coming home, speaking to Ada, and then confronting Robard. And punching him. Yes, I remember that well. It felt good. But then..." he paused as he tried to remember just what had happened next.

"From what I was told, you passed out just after that from exhaustion," said Nindal kindly.

Elrohir looked down in embarrassment. Passed out? Elven warriors did not 'pass out' from fatigue. He was mortified to think that he was so weak, ignoring the trauma he'd been through that brought him to that state. To mask his discomfiture, he asked rather testily, "If I am not injured, why am I in the infirmary rather in my bed? Everyone knows this is not the place to sleep. With the endless poking and prodding one suffers here, it is impossible to find adequate rest."

Not at all offended by Elrohir's words, recognizing their source, Nindal grinned at his young friend and said, "It is true that for once you have returned without any injuries that require a healer. You are here, however, because your father was making sure of that. But when he was done, you were sleeping so soundly that he did not wish to disturb you. Fear not. You will be free to go once he returns."

Knowing he sounded petulant, but unable to stop himself, Elrohir asked crossly, "Well then, where is he? Why did he leave?"

"He sat here at your side for many hours and will be quite vexed to learn you awoke while he was gone. However, I sent him to join your family when it came time for dinner. He not only needed the nourishment, but also needed the distraction from worrying about you," Nindal admonished gently.

Elrohir regarded Nindal irritably and scowled grumpily for a moment, but then the words penetrated Elrohir's bad temper and the young elf's face cleared as he sighed. With a small apologetic smile, he said softly, "Of course. I am sorry to have snapped. My manners seem to have lapsed along with my strength."

Then the young elf threw back the bed covers and carefully swung his feet over the side, pleased to find that, although still tired, he did not feel at all light-headed.

"What are you doing?" protested Nindal.

Elrohir continued to rise slowly and looked over in mild amusement as he answered, "Getting up, of course. What does it look like?"

The healer pushed Elrohir back onto the bed and, adopting the stern tones he'd learned from Elrond when dealing with recalcitrant patients, said, "You will have to wait here. I am not authorized to let you leave. Your father will be back soon and you can discuss it with him."

Elrohir understood Nindal's position. If he left the room and anything happened to him, Nindal would hold himself responsible, even if Elrond did not. However, the young elf was tired. Physically tired of course, but mostly tired of having no say in his own life. If the last three years had taught him nothing else, he had learned just how much it meant to him to have the right to choose. Thus, understanding aside, he was not about to let Nindal, or anyone else, tell him what to do.

"I wish to join him," he said firmly. "Him and the rest of my family, who I have not yet seen. I wish to take a much-needed bath first, but then I will not be stopped. Please do not try to detain me, for I do not like to be forced to defy you."

"Elrohir," Nindal protested in one last feeble attempt, "Your father will be back soon—it would be no great hardship to wait just awhile. Besides, you may not wish to admit it, but you are still extraordinarily fatigued. Take your bath and then rest here and regain your strength until he returns. I can fetch you something if you are hungry."

Elrohir stood and patted Nindal's arm in friendship. "I thank you for your concern, but the nourishment I require is that of the soul, and the best place to find that is with my family. I promise to be careful, but I am determined to go." Seeing the worry in Nindal's face, though, he added, "If it eases your concerns, you may walk with me if you wish."

Nindal recognized defeat when he saw it and nodded with a rueful smile. "Very well, stubborn one. I can see that I will not be convincing you to stay. In fact, I am surprised that I even tried. I should have known it was a losing proposition from the start. Well, if I have no choice in this, I had better see to your bath and finding you something suitable to wear."

Elrohir smiled his thanks at Nindal's quick capitulation, realizing that the healer had known from the start that there had been little possibility of Elrohir being persuaded to stay, but feeling he had to try anyway.

In short order, Nindal had prepared a bath in the infirmary's small healing pool and Elrohir was quickly scrubbing off weeks worth of grime. It was a glorious feeling. He would have loved to soak in the hot water for hours and ease his stiff muscles, but his desire to see his family took precedence and after just minutes, he was already out of the tub and drying off.

Nindal scowled when he saw the myriad scrapes and bruises covering Elrohir...just what kind of trouble had the young elf found this time? Deciding he'd leave those sorts of questions to Elrond, though, he quietly held out a fresh set of clothes for Elrohir and soon they were ready to leave.

Silently, the two walked from infirmary until they arrived outside the dining room, at which point Nindal stepped back and waited for Elrohir to open the large doors before him.

Elrohir was hesitating, though, apparently reluctant to enter.

"Elrohir?" questioned Nindal. For someone who had professed to be anxious to see his family, Elrohir was behaving strangely.

"Can you hear them?" asked Elrohir. "They sound so happy and relaxed, enjoying their meal. My entrance will change all that. Perhaps I was wrong to come."

Nindal snorted in a most un-elf-like manner. "Of course your entrance will change that! They will no longer be conversing about day-to-day trivialities, but instead will be joyously welcoming you back. Now you came all this way to see them—do not find needless things to worry about...Go in!" Then with a grin, he gave Elrohir a little shove toward the door and went back down the corridor.

---------------------------

Elrohir stood alone, looking at the closed door for a couple more moments, listening to the carefree tones coming from inside the dining room. He was certain they would cease the second he opened the doors and become a barrage of questions concerning his recent whereabouts. But once again, his desire to see his family outweighed any other need or concern—not to mention that he really was rather hungry—and so after a deep breath, he finally pulled the door open.

Contrary to his expectations, though, his arrival did not halt the animated conversation. In fact, no one even noted his presence at first. He stood in the doorway, his amusement growing as he listened to Celeborn and Arwen teaming together to argue that honey from hives closest to clover were far superior to honey from hives near flower gardens. Galadriel and his father were arguing the opposing position and Elrohir listened with a grin as he realized what a nonsensical argument it was. Neither side would be able to win, as it was all a simple matter of preference. It was only when Elrond distractedly waved him over, thinking he was one of the servants bringing the next course, that Elrohir finally laughed out loud and said teasingly, "You know, I really expected a different sort of welcome, but I have to say this makes me feel much more like I am truly home."

The effect of that statement was instantaneous—shocked silence followed by an absolute explosion of sound as everyone, even the stately Galadriel, leapt out of their seats and rushed over to greet him. The next several minutes were a blur of tears, hugs, and heartfelt words as each, in their turn, welcomed back their lost loved one.

A place was quickly set for Elrohir and the rest of the meal that followed was one of the most joyous occasions any could remember. Everyone was in high spirits and went out of their way to bring laughter to the group, even Elrohir, who was still feeling weak and tired, despite his obvious elation. Of course, the fact that Elladan was not there could not help but dampen his mood as well, but he was determined to not let anyone catch him as, from time to time, his eyes would sweep about the room as if in search of his missing half.

The conversation was kept light and fun, though, and no one even remotely touched on the subject of Elrohir's whereabouts for the past several weeks. All wished to celebrate the joy of the reunion without having to delve into what could only be troubling questions, so Elrohir was spared from having to think about his ordeal.

Then reality came crashing back after the meal was finished and everyone moved to the family's gathering room. Elrohir had grabbed an apple on the way out of the dining area and was leaning tiredly against the wall, munching on it when Glorfindel, who had joined them, grinned and asked, "Still hungry Elrohir? I thought you just finished eating."

But overwhelming fatigue was catching up with Elrohir and without thinking, he snapped defensively, "I missed most of the meal and hadn't eaten in days. How could you blame me for being hungry?"

The room fell deathly quiet as Glorfindel murmured, "I apologize—I meant nothing by it."

Elrohir pulled away from the wall and looked embarrassed as he felt all eyes on him. This was the second time today he'd found himself apologizing for his bad behavior and was ashamed of himself. "Nay, Glorfindel...it is I who should apologize. I am sorry. Perhaps I am over fatigued and should retire for the evening."

Shoulders slumped, he turned to go, but then Arwen gently grabbed her brother's arm and instead of letting him leave, tugged him farther into the room and then down into one of the large, soft chairs. Then she squished in beside him like she used to when she was small and with an arm around his shoulders finally asked the question they all had been dying to know, "You say you had not eaten in days—Elrohir ...where were you?!"

---------------------------

Elrohir leaned his head back and closed his eyes briefly. It was not going to be easy to tell his family about all that had happened to him. How could they not be upset when they learned of Kalen and Matias' treachery? And he knew that they would also be pained on his behalf over everything else he had endured. He only hoped that he would be able to maintain some form of control, for he already felt like he'd embarrassed himself enough for one day didn't want them to think he'd completely forgotten his upbringing. But he was feeling so drained and shaky. What he really wanted right now was to escape to his quiet, airy room and lay down on his own soft bed....and sleep. Oh, how that tempted him. Still, his family had waited long enough and deserved to know the truth, so with a deep breath, he opened his eyes again and looked around. His father, his grandparents, Arwen, Glorfindel, and now Erestor had joined them as well—they had all pulled up chairs nearby and sat quietly, their concern and love obvious in the looks they gave him. He smiled tremulously as he regarded them, grateful for their loving presence, but still wishing that his brothers were there as well to give him additional strength. Especially Elladan. Oh, how he missed his twin! If only he would walk through the doors right now!

But it was not to be, and forcing that thought aside as useless, wishful thinking, Elrohir began his tale. He looked at no one as he spoke, fearing that if he saw his loved ones' reactions, he would most certainly not be able to maintain self control. Thus, he chose a spot on the carpet and focused on it while he recounted in low voice what he knew about the past three years.

The story he told was an abbreviated one, told in chronological order starting with the mission that Elladan led to Rohan to bring back a herd of horses. His audience all remembered that long-ago trip as it had ended in unexpected tragedy, but didn't see at first the connection to recent events. The connection became all too clear, however, when Elrohir told of the impact it had had on Polinas, Kalen, and Matias—the hatred it had spawned and the resulting, mad desire for revenge. He described their plan to destroy Elladan by harming him and how they had attacked him but then had left him when a group of dwarves unexpectedly showed up.

Elrohir glossed over details regarding the nearly fatal beating he'd received from the elves, the dwarves' harsh treatment, and the joy Robard and his men took in tormenting him. He wasn't up to sharing the feelings of confusion, pain, and aloneness that he had endured—he didn't know if he'd ever be able to share them. So instead, in just a few sentences, he told how he'd arrived at Lord Hebert's estate, had worked in the fields, and then had been eventually rescued by Estel. Then, knowing that they all were aware of the events between his rescue and his second disappearance, he skipped to the point where he'd been taken by Kalen in the middle of the night and then hidden away in the stables until the day before, when his captors decided they could no longer go through with their plans.

The narrative didn't take very long. Elrohir kept strictly to the facts and no one interrupted with questions, so in short order, the basic tale was done. It was only then that Elrohir looked up from the floor and saw the same faces regarding him, now with understanding and worry. He hadn't fooled any of them. They knew him well enough to read between the lines and discern what had been left out, and he could feel the anguish they felt for him. It was too much. Worn to a frazzle and emotionally fragile after his recitation, Elrohir began to tremble and buried his face in his hands, desperate to maintain his dignity. He shuddered as he took deep breaths, only marginally aware of Arwen's arms around him, other loving caresses, and soft words of comfort from various familiar voices. How could he tell them that this was not what he wanted right now? He loved them all but just wished they would leave him alone as he struggled for control.

Then, miraculously, it seemed like his unspoken wish was granted, for he realized that the voices had faded away and that he was now alone in the chair. Tentatively, he lowered his hands and looked up, eternally grateful to find the room empty except for his father, who sat quietly by the window, looking out over the treetops.

When he thought he could trust his voice, he called quietly, "Ada..."

Elrond looked over and smiled at his son, then rose and walked over. He squatted in front of the chair and looked into Elrohir's face. "Are you alright?" he asked quietly.

Elrohir smiled somewhat ruefully. "Not really," he admitted, "but I will be."

With a soft laugh of amusement at Elrohir's candor, Elrond agreed, "Aye, I think you have had enough for now. Let me walk you to your chambers and put you back to bed."

Grateful that his father knew exactly what he needed, Elrohir accepted his father's hand up and followed him out the room.

While walking through the empty hallways, Elrohir hesitantly asked, "The others...they left?"

Glancing at his son, Elrond nodded. "Aye. They are concerned for you, but I felt you needed some time to gather yourself. Would you have preferred they stayed?"

Elrohir shook his head, "Nay, Ada. As always, you understand my needs almost better than I. Thank you. I only hope no one was offended. I would not want them to think I do not cherish their company."

Elrond nodded at his son's concern. As always, Elrohir was more concerned about others than himself. Leave it to Elrohir to be worrying about...... In the midst of that thought, another one broke in and Elrond knew. Trauma and hardships aside, this was the same Elrohir as always. The kind, caring elf who thought about others' feeling ahead of his own, and yet was strong enough to stand up to someone like Robard if needed. He stopped in the hallway and looked at his son, breaking into a broad smile when Elrohir also stopped and looked back at him quizzically.

Not wanting to share his earlier concerns that Elrohir's spirit may have been permanently scarred by his experiences, Elrond shrugged and said, continuing to smile, "I am just happy you are back, my son. It has been a long time since I have felt such peace."

Only partially accepting his father's explanation, Elrohir nodded a bit suspiciously, but then smiled back and the two continued on their way.

Elrohir was so looking forward to crawling into his bed—it beckoned him and filled his thoughts the closer he got to his room. Thus, he was not expecting the wave of emotion that hit him when he finally walked into the sitting chamber he shared with his twin. He was home, he was safe, and yet...and yet he was still not whole.

He stopped and turned to his father, finally asking the question that he'd been avoiding, "Ada, just where is Elladan?"

Elrond continued on into Elrohir's room and said over his shoulder, "Come, I will explain while you get ready for bed."

While the young elf got undressed and pulled on his nightclothes, Elrond told him briefly of Lord Bremon's request for changes to their treaty and Elrond's decision to send Elladan to represent him.

At that point, Elrohir, who was blissfully sinking under his covers, looked at his father and said, "I am glad he was given something to distract him from worrying over my fate. I hope you did not have too much trouble convincing him to abandon the search for awhile."

Elrond sat down on his son's bedside and thought quickly. Just how could he respond to his son...to explain to Elrohir that his twin hadn't even been looking for him? Elrohir had had enough upheaval for one day and he didn't want to upset him by telling him that Elladan hadn't really been part of the search at all. While he searched for the right words, though, his silence spoke volumes.

"He wasn't looking for me, was he?" Elrohir's words cut into his thoughts.

"Elrohir..."

"You do not have to say it, Ada," the young elf said quietly. "I see it in your face."

"Elrohir, you must understand..." began Elrond urgently.

But once more he was cut off. "Please do not feel you have to explain. I do understand. Really. It is all right. Can I....I just want to sleep now, Ada...please?"

Elrond looked at his son in frustration. This was not how he wanted this day to end. But he could see that the exhausted elf was really not up to a long discussion on why his beloved twin had not been leading the search for him, and so resignedly, he bent over and kissed his son goodnight and tucked him in. Elrohir said no more as Elrond went and pulled the long drapes across the windows and by the time the concerned father returned to his bedside, Elrohir was already fast asleep.

--------------------------

It was the following afternoon before Kalen and Matias were finally brought before Elrond. They had been under guard ever since Glorfindel had fetched them from the stables right after hearing Elrohir's story. They were not likely to run away—indeed, they seemed only too ready to face their punishment, so the guards were more for their protection than to prevent their escape.

Yes, there were more than just a few who would have been pleased to find Kalen and Matias in their hands for just a short while. The people of Rivendell were quite protective of their lord and his family and were outraged that some of their own had attacked Elrohir. There was much talk amongst those who felt that the two deserved swift, painful justice—and many who would have been willing to see to it personally. Glorfindel's efficient guards kept the two safe, however, and they were unharmed when they were brought before Elrond.

The chamber in which he waited was full of elves. Not only was Elrond's council in attendance in addition to Galadriel, Celeborn, and Arwen, but also many other elves from all over the valley. Nothing like this had ever happened, and they came by the score to see justice served.

Kalen and Matias barely even noticed the other elves, though, as the eyes of their lord bore into them. There was an uncomfortable, long silence as Elrond studied the two elves and the air grew thick with tension.

It was a relief when he finally spoke, "After all I have observed in my long lifetime, from deceit to treachery to malicious cruelty, I must admit that I never once imagined a scene such as this. Two of my own people, standing before me to answer for unspeakably cruel crimes against my son. My son, who had always counted you as friends! I am understandably furious, but also more saddened than you can know. It grieves me to oversee these proceedings. But my greatest concern today is to ensure a satisfactory response to your crimes. Since you confessed your actions to Lord Glorfindel yesterday, there is no need to establish your guilt. The facts are clear and your story matches that of Lord Elrohir's. The only question, then, is to decide your fate. And that is the more difficult question."

Elrond paused as he thought over the morning's meeting with his advisors. Some had wanted to execute the two for their treachery and attempted murder of Elrohir. Some thought they should be sold into slavery as Elrohir had been. And there had been several other equally angry suggestions. The brothers' unexpected defender, however, had been Elrohir, who had barged into the meeting uninvited after he found out what they were discussing. Demanding that his voice be heard, he argued that the two deserved a chance to redeem themselves—that what they had done was horribly wrong and misguided, but they were not inherently evil beings. Elrond had listened carefully to what Elrohir and the others had said, and carefully considered as he looked at the two before him.

He continued, "I received many suggestions as to an appropriate fate for you. Many harsh, and all deserved, but you were not without a supporter. You may be surprised to learn that your most eloquent defender was Lord Elrohir himself. His friendship, naturally, is forfeit, but he believes there has been too much suffering already and wishes to see it end. He also believes that there is still good in you that should be given a chance to flourish. I have listened to his input and that of my other councilors, but before I pass final judgment, I wish to know if there is anything you wish to say?"

Matias shook his head silently, eyes glued to the floor, but Kalen said quietly, "Aye, my lord."

Elrond nodded once, "Proceed."

Kalen's voice quavered a bit as he spoke, but his voice was loud enough for all to hear as he said, "Nothing can justify our actions. Nothing we do in the future could ever erase what we have done. But if it means anything, we are both helplessly sorry for our actions. Our loss blinded us to the truth and we allowed ourselves to sink into an abyss of hatred and vengeance—into a sort of madness in which we participated in acts that now seem unthinkable. Looking back, I cannot believe some of the things I did."

His voice strengthened as he continued, "Only now can I see the truth for what it is. I wanted...nay, needed, someone to hate—a target for the anger that consumed me. I was given that target by another who deceived me, but I was the one who relished the opportunity to hate Lord Elladan, for by focusing on the hatred, I could mask my despair and hide the agony I felt at the loss of my family. Thus, I set out on a course, blinded to the pain I would cause others...innocent others. There can be no justification for what I have done and I make no excuses. I have failed in so many ways. As a person, a brother, a son...as a friend. I do not deserve mercy and ask none for myself. But if the possibility lingers in your heart, I ask that you consider that Matias is very young and was misled by those he trusted to guide him. If it is in my ability to do so and if it suits you, I would take as much of his punishment upon myself as I can."

At those words, Matias, who had up to that point been silently regarding the floor, looked up and interrupted violently, "Nay! I will not have Kalen take blame that is equally mine. I was taught right from wrong just like any other and my youth does not excuse my part in this grievous affair. I beg that whatever we face, we do it together."

Kalen looked at his little brother and, for the first time in forever, gave him a genuine smile, lightening his appearance and giving the younger elf a glimpse of what his brother had been like before tragedy had so changed him. Certain that he'd said the right thing, Matias returned the smile and then looked back to his lord, determined that whatever happened, he would stay at his brother's side.

Elrond regarded the two silently. He had had serious reservations regarding the fate of those who had so willingly and viciously hurt his child, but seeing them now and hearing their words, he realized that Elrohir had been right...despite his fury at what these two had done, there was still something in them that was worth saving. So, turning to his son, who had been standing in the shadows watching everything silently, he asked, "Do you have anything you wish to add?"

Elrohir shook his head, unwilling to share his thoughts and feelings. He did not hate his former friends—he was too sad for them to feel anything akin to hate. And he was glad that he had spoken up in their defense earlier—he still believed that there was good in them that could be saved. Yet, he couldn't forget the pain and anguish they had caused his family. All in the name of revenge against Elladan. It was like a wound to his heart to think of all that his twin had suffered, and even now suffered, because of their warped view of justice. Yes, they had found his brother's weakness and exploited it well and seeing them again only reminded him of all the suffering they had caused. Awash with conflicting emotions, he chose to say nothing and instead hid his thoughts behind stoic silence.

Elrond wasn't deceived by his son's expressionless mask—he knew that this was difficult for Elrohir to endure. Thus, wanting to end this unhappy affair once and for all, he turned back to Kalen and Matias and spoke their sentence.

"Your repentance appears genuine, yet your heinous acts demand that I enact a stern punishment. Lord Elrohir, who has suffered the most, has proposed a sentence with which I now concur. He wishes you to have a chance at redemption—a journey that will be long and difficult, but achievable if that is your desire. If you agree, your sentence will be banishment from all elven realms, not to have contact with any of our kind, until you have proven yourselves worthy of return. The shape of that proof is as yet undetermined. It may come in many different forms, but you will know in your souls once it is done. Do you accept this and agree to abide by this judgment?"

The brothers shared a quick look, shocked at this unexpected reprieve and the chance to redeem themselves as creatures of light and harmony. Seeing grateful acceptance in each other's face, they turned back to their lord and quietly said together, "Aye, my lord."

Accepting their statement with a single nod, Elrond then said, "Once you leave these chambers, you are to speak to no one. You are to gather your belongings and go, leaving Imladris until you find yourselves able to return, worthy. Now...be gone from these lands."

The two brothers grasped each other's hand and started for the door, walking close as if to gain strength from each other's nearness. Before they reached the door, though, Kalen stopped abruptly, causing his brother to stop as well. The older elf then looked at Elrohir directly for the first time. He stood silently for a moment before glancing to Elrond and asking him quietly, "May I speak once more, my lord, before I go?"

Elrond nodded again and then Kalen turned back to Elrohir, addressing his former captive gravely, "Lord Elrohir, I will not have a chance to say this after we walk through those doors, so I must say it now. For what we have done to you, I can never fully express my deep shame and remorse. I, especially, did things that will forever haunt my nightmares—you were my friend and I betrayed you. It was inexcusable. I am so sorry. And...and for what we have done to your brother, I am equally ashamed. Someday...someday perhaps we will fulfill our sentence and then I would hope to see you again. But no matter what the future brings for Matias and me, I wish you and your family only the best."

Matias, then, glanced over to Elrond and the elven lord answered his question before he could voice it, "You also may speak."

The younger elf turned to Elrohir and added in a quiet voice, "My lord, I, too, am sorry for what I have done. My shame knows no bounds and I know in my heart that we do not deserve the support you gave us. I...I know not where you find the strength for such kindness. Nonetheless, I am grateful for it and make you a promise. Somehow, someday, we will perform a deed so noble, that your faith in us will be rewarded. This, I swear."

The elven prince being addressed still said nothing. He couldn't. Elrohir's throat was so tight with choked-off emotion that he almost couldn't breathe. Unable to trust his voice and unwilling to share this latest loss of composure with the gathered crowd, he accepted his old friends' words with a grim smile and then looked away, praying that he could maintain his control until this whole sordid episode was over.

With their final thoughts expressed, the brothers turned toward the door and started to walk out, only to stop again abruptly once more. "One last thing," Kalen added with just a touch of a smile. "We have sent word to the outpost where we had sent a certain horse for safekeeping. Raumo should be returned in a few days. I understand he is most anxious to see you."

And then...just like that...the brothers who had made Elrohir's life a misery for so long, were gone.

--------------------------

After Kalen and Matias left Elrond's chambers, Elrohir stayed in the shadows, lost in thought as he fought once more to understand the "why" of everything that had happened.

A hand on his shoulder made him jump in surprise and he looked up to find himself staring into the face of his old mentor, Glorfindel. With embarrassment, the younger elf realized that the two of them were the only ones left in the room. He wondered how long he'd been standing there, lost to reality while everyone else left. He was irritated with himself for once more giving his father something to worry about, but didn't immediately move away from his shadows, enjoying its comforting darkness along with Glorfindel's silent support.

"I am so tired of all this misery," he finally whispered when the other said nothing. "Every time I think it is over, something else happens. I should be rejoicing, for today should mark an end to it, but I have thought that before and been grievously wrong. Do you think this might finally be the end—that my life will once more follow a path of sanity and meaning?"

Glorfindel shook his head and shrugged. "I can only hope, Elrohir. I have lived for millennia, but cannot begin to pretend that I understand these events. I am only sorry that it has caused you so much heartache."

"Not just me," Elrohir protested sadly. "There is no one that I love that has not been touched by this. Hurt by this. Think of Ada. And Estel. And Arwen. You. And everyone else I know. Think of them all." He paused for a moment and then continued in a small voice, "And what of Elladan? He still does not even know that I live. That I am home and well. That I even remember him! He was the intended victim all along, you know, and has been hurt terribly. I do not even know where to start to make it up to him."

"Hold, hold,..." interrupted Glorfindel. "Make it up to him? Elrohir, you cannot be upset with yourself about this. It is not your fault!"

Elrohir protested, "But if not for me..."

"Nay! Enough!" said the older elf forcefully. "You cannot blame yourself for what others have done to you. You did not choose any of this. You did not ask to be beaten and sold, did you?"

Elrohir impatiently, angrily shook his head. "Of course not. But I allowed myself to be captured in the first place, didn't I? I am better trained than that. I should have listened when Elladan warned me of Raumo's strange behavior."

"Did your training include being wary of your friends?" queried Glorfindel.

Elrohir shook his head again angrily, tears glistening in his eyes. "That is not the point!"

"And are you not a renowned expert on horses?" Glorfindel continued.

"What does that..." Elrohir began before being cut off again.

"Your brother believed that Raumo had eaten something disagreeable. But you knew your horse was not ill. And you were right. You had no way of knowing that your friends had drugged Raumo and would turn him against you. You had no way of knowing that their presence in the woods was a trap. This does not make your behavior foolish. Your training did not betray you. Polinas, Kalen, and Matias betrayed you. They were the ones who did wrong."

Elrohir did try to listen to what Glorfindel was saying, but was angry, sad, and confused and still worn out, physically and emotionally. He wasn't up to discussing his thoughts right now, since he hadn't really had a chance to work through them himself. Instead, he wanted to get away and think about things on his own. In a voice barely above a whisper, he asked, "May I go now?"

Glorfindel sighed, knowing he was not getting anywhere at the moment. With no better way of expressing his love and understanding, he pulled the troubled elf into a hug, wishing he could help Elrohir find peace. When the younger elf remained tense, however, he finally let him go with another sigh and said, "I will not keep you. But Elrohir, do think of what I have said, please?"

His reward was an unsteady smile and nod, and then Elrohir fled into the passageway and was soon gone.

----------------------

Hours later, no one had seen the young elf and his family began to once more become worried. There had been far too many instances of bad things happening to the elf for them to be comfortable with not knowing exactly where he was. Quietly, they each began to walk around the grounds, looking for him.

It was Galadriel who finally came upon his hiding spot. It was well chosen, for no one would have thought to look there. No one, of course, except for the very wise lady of Lothlorien.

It was by the small frog pond that she found Elrohir, sitting on the very same bench that was the scene of their earlier tragedy, staring unhappily into the reflective pool.

Galadriel walked quietly up to it and joined him on the seat. He didn't look at her, but acknowledged her arrival by scooting over to make room for her.

"You are troubled," she said softly.

Her words almost made him laugh in disbelief. Did she even know what an absurd understatement that was? 'Troubled' was barely the beginning. 'Confused,' 'angry,' 'hurt,' 'distraught,' 'lonely.' Yes, those reflected his state of being better. The problem was that he didn't know what to do to feel better.

The silence stretched until he sighed. Everyone seemed to be waiting for him to talk. She wasn't going to say anything, apparently, so he would have to.

"I just cannot make sense of this," he said in a low voice. "There was so much needless suffering and grief. I find it hard to understand why it happened. And I fear that it will never really be over."

The beautiful elven lady did not move closer to Elrohir, but suddenly he felt as if she were embracing him and knew that somehow she was enveloping him with her love.

"Oh Elrohir," she said. "You are so young. And it is impossibly hard for one so young to see past adversity. It does not help that your life has been turned upside down these past years and you have not yet had time to regain a sense of peace. Nor does it help that you had to suffer unthinkable hardships alone, away from your other half."

Elrohir smiled briefly at those perceptive words. He wondered if the others also realized how hard it had been for him to go through everything without Elladan. The bond between the twins was a source of incredible strength, but also a corresponding weakness when circumstances forced them apart. It wasn't like they were crippled without each other, but they found it exponentially harder to face challenging times without the steadfast support of the other.

Elrohir realized that Galadriel hadn't continued speaking and looked at her questioningly.

She looked sadly into his beloved face and when she spoke again, it was not with the same sort of serenity that usually embodied her words. She took both his hands and said quietly, "I am compelled to take this opportunity to apologize for my own role in your suffering. I have not yet asked your forgiveness for the events by this pool. I truly believed that taking you back through your memories would help you. Instead, I only caused you to live twice through an experience that no one should ever have to face, even once. I am so sorry, dearest. I would never hurt you if it was in my power to prevent it."

Galadriels' intent with those words had been to express her sorrow at the pain her actions had caused Elrohir, but they had an unexpectedly positive result. Warm-hearted Elrohir couldn't bear to see someone he cared for hurting, so his desire to make her feel better forced him to shed his own mantle of gloom at last. Casting aside his own misery, he turned his thoughts to the more productive task of helping his grandmother. Squeezing her hands gently, he considered—it was clear that Galadriel agonized over her part in the previous incident by the pond. What could he say to absolve her of her guilt?

With the now-innocent pool as a backdrop, he looked into her eyes and said quietly, "Your visions showed that your actions would lead to the return of my memory, did they not? As Ada has told me countless times, visions of the future are peculiar things—rarely straight-forward and open to many interpretations. I believe...I believe that events unfolded the way they were meant to and you did nothing wrong by taking me back through those memories. I cannot say that I enjoyed it...either time...but if you had not brought me here and I had not reacted in the manner I did, then Kalen would not have had an opportunity to take me. I would never choose to be trapped in a box again," he swallowed hard as the memory of the suffocating darkness washed over him and then continued, "but in the end, it was living through Kalen's harsh treatment that sparked my memories. Perhaps that is the only path that would have returned them to me. And perhaps that was exactly what your visions foresaw. So...you needn't regret your actions. In the end, they held true and you were successful."

He stared at her anxiously when she removed her hands and bowed her head. Had he made it worse? Had he said the wrong thing?

But when she raised her head, he was almost robbed of breath by the sheer love in her gaze. She lightly kissed his cheek and then said with a smile, "Have I ever told you how proud I am of you?"

She gazed lovingly at the surprised young elf before her and then continued, "The kindness in your soul that allows you think of others before yourself, and to forgive, even when you were caused great suffering, is sheer beauty. It comes not from a weakness within you, but from a strength that I can only marvel at. Yes, I am so proud to call you my grandson."

Galadriel softly caressed his face and added, "I know you have struggled to understand all you have endured, and the suffering seems pointless and cruel. And I must confess there is not always an apparent explanation for why things happen. But if nothing else, know this—I believe that you will come to see in time that these trials have left you stronger. Much as a gem's beauty is only revealed after friction, your character is polished by the hardships you bear. So find your peace, my dear little one, and do not fret over what you cannot change."

Elrohir smiled gratefully at his grandmother. He was unable to completely forget his worries so easily, but her words still did ease a large part of the burden from his heart. Thus, after a few more minutes sitting together in companionable silence, the two of them arose and went to find the rest of the family.

--------------------------

Several more days past in Rivendell while life returned to normal and its inhabitants finally accepted that the heartache of the past few years was at last over. At first Elrohir was unable to find that return to normalcy himself, for everywhere he turned, it seemed like someone was watching him...making sure that he was coping well and not lapsing back into despondency. But once he was able to convince them that he was managing nicely, he was allowed more freedom, much to his great relief. That is not to say he reverted to the reclusive behaviors that had marked his earlier return. He spent many hours with his family and friends, sometimes working through disturbing past events but often just enjoying pleasant times. The sessions with his father were especially beneficial, for despite his discussions with others, he treasured his father's wisdom and the two of them sat for many hours, helping Elrohir to reconcile all that had transpired.

But notwithstanding everyone's helpful advice, Elrohir still was unable to truly find peace. Despite repeated attempts by his family and friends to help him relax and enjoy himself, he could still be found at all hours prowling the corridors of his home. He never directly addressed his restlessness, but everyone knew why the young elf continued to be on edge. Everyone knew that he would not be able to settle down until he had finally been reunited with his twin.

It wasn't completely unexpected, therefore, when Elrond looked up from his desk one morning to see his son hovering in the doorway. Smiling in greeting, he said, "Come in, Elrohir. Is there something I can do for you?"

Before he was even half-way in, Elrohir started speaking with agitation, "I have been thinking—Elladan should be on his way home by now. And if I leave immediately, I can meet him out on the plains. Adar, I wish to see him...now. And it is also my preference to meet him in private, without hundreds of well-meaning people looking over our shoulders. Therefore, I have decided to ride out and rendezvous with him. In short..." he drew in a deep breath and then finished rapidly, "I have packed and will be ready to leave as soon my horse has been readied."

Elrond, fully aware of his son's burning desire to be reunited with his twin, nonetheless couldn't imagine letting Elrohir out of his sight, let alone allowing him to ride out alone. He didn't want to upset his son, but there wasn't any conceivable way he would be able to give his permission. Reluctantly, he said, "Elrohir, I know you are anxious to see your brother, but I am afraid I cannot permit you to ride out to meet him."

For once, Elrond couldn't read the expression that swept over his son's face—Elrohir didn't look angry or upset. In fact, his agitation from a moment ago vanished and he seemed almost eerily calm as he said, "Ada, it is long past time for his mind to be put at rest. I would not have him think I am lost for one moment longer than necessary. Why do you say I cannot go?"

Determined to keep things pleasant, Elrond answered in a reasonable voice, "There is much here that requires your presence, so I prefer that you stay."

There was no mistaking the glare that the younger elf sent to his father at the obviously contrived answer.

"Things that require my presence," he said slowly as if in disbelief. "Ada, it is far more important that I go to Elladan—he has suffered enough by thinking me lost. Besides, you have managed to keep things running smoothly without 'my presence' for the past three years... what exactly could need me here now?"

"Watch your tone, young one," Elrond admonished. "It is not your place to question me and your words border on disrespect."

Elrohir shook his head, clearly annoyed at being scolded, "I am not being disrespectful, Ada, and you know that. And furthermore, you are avoiding the question. Tell me plainly, why do you say I cannot go?"

The great elven lord was rarely caught without a good answer, but he honestly didn't know what to say to Elrohir. In fact, other than his own fears, there was no good reason for forbidding Elrohir to go. His son had been a well-skilled warrior for many years, fully capable of taking care of himself. So he couldn't bring himself to admit that his fears were driving his decision, and answered a bit curtly, "The specifics are not important. It is enough that I say you are required here. If nothing else, you cannot have forgotten your grandparents' visit. It would be rude to leave while they are here."

If anything, Elrohir's expression became even darker as he said impatiently, "Rude, Adar? They would be the first to understand if I explained to them why I go. Besides, I will return with Elladan before they leave and then we can all enjoy time together."

Without a good comeback, Elrond decided to stop playing verbal games and stated firmly, "Enough. I will make this easy...I am forbidding you to go."

Elrohir's whole body was taut with leashed tension as he said, "I was not asking permission, Adar. I was informing you as a courtesy. I am leaving as soon as my horse is ready."

Elrond stood up, shocked and angry to be so openly confronted, as very few had ever had the audacity to challenge him. Unthinking of the consequences of his words, the elven lord commanded, "Do not think to defy me. You are not to go. If I must I will put a guard on you to ensure you obey me!"

Elrohir turned abruptly at his father's words and started for the door, his face hidden so the elven lord didn't catch the stunned dismay that flashed over it at Elrond's words.

Elrond, not knowing if Elrohir still intended to defy him or was simply going back to his quarters, called to his son. "Elrohir, wait!"

Even upset as he was, Elrohir was ever dutiful and paused, but did not turn to face his father, who walked up behind him.

"I would not have you disobey me, Elrohir. This is not the time to be defiant," the elven lord said in a voice once more calm.

His young son was anything but calm, though. In a choked voice, Elrohir said, "I thought I was done being a prisoner. But it seems I have merely exchanged one set of shackles for another."

Shocked, Elrond put his hands on Elrohir's shoulders and turned him around. "Elrohir, it is not my intention to make you a prisoner!" he said vehemently. "I only wish you keep you safe. This is for your own good. You have had a rather bad habit of finding trouble recently....even more so than usual," he finished with a small smile, hoping a bit of levity would help cut through the tension he felt in his son's shoulders.

But Elrohir refused accept his father's attempt to diffuse the situation, glaring at him as he said, "You take away my right to decide my own path and threaten to put a guard on me. That sounds remarkably similar to what others have done, but at least my captors never made a pretence of it being 'for my own good,' he finished bitterly.

Elrond let his son go and slowly bowed his head. The thought of letting Elrohir go terrified him, but he suddenly realized that forcing his son to stay would cause far more harm than good. Suppressing the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, he said, "I am sorry, Elrohir. I have completely mishandled this. It is just...you are so recently returned to us. And the thought of losing you again brings such fear to my heart that I can hardly bear it. How can I keep you safe if you ride out alone?"

His own heart now aching for the clear pain in his father's voice, Elrohir felt his anger vanish and said quietly, "I do understand your concern, Ada, and I cannot express how grateful I am for it. And I am so sorry that worry for me has ever caused you pain, but I cannot change what has already occurred, and must instead look to the future. And part of that future is being reunited with Elladan. I thought you, more than anyone else, would understand. He is still hurting, and I will not be at peace until I find him and let him know that I am well."

He took a deep breath and continued, hoping to make his father understand, "Besides Ada, I am a warrior. It is my job to ride into danger, and you cannot keep me safe forever. Indeed, the last time you 'lost' me, I was taken from our home, from this very corridor. For certain, there will come a time when I run into trouble again, but you must trust me to be wise enough to keep myself safe when prudent, and skilled enough to take risks when I must. But more than that..."

When Elrohir's voice stopped abruptly, Elrond reluctantly prompted, "Please finish."

The young elf's voice dropped almost to as whisper as he said, "More than that, I have had a lifetime's worth of being under another's control. It makes me feel ill to think of defying you, but the thought of living without freedom of choice is unbearable as well. Please do not make those be my only options," he begged.

Praying he was making the right decision, Elrond sighed and pulled his son into his arms. He knew he couldn't refuse. "Very well," he whispered. "Although it pains me to say it, you have my blessing. Just...keep yourself safe."

Elrohir knew how hard it had been for his father to say that and returned the hug with a grateful smile. Then he headed for the door and said, "I will, Ada, and thank you."

Then the young elf rapidly left his father's study, anxious to be on his way to join his brother. A short time later he eagerly mounted Raumo, who had been returned home just the day before, and found himself picturing the reunion with his twin. As he cantered out of the courtyard, he imagined the stories Elladan would tell about his adventures in the dwarven lands...

---------------------------

...earlier...

Contrary to the twins' normal tendency to find trouble, Elladan's journey to the dwarven realm had been remarkably uneventful. After he left Rivendell, he rode for days, methodically following the directions provided in the message from Lord Bremon, stopping only when he and his horse needed rest as he made his way west.

It was fortunate that he traveled alone, for he would have been sorry company during those days, as his father's words dominated his waking hours. "You must trust Elrohir to find his way home," "You must not lose hope for him," "He needs you." It was that last thought that troubled him the most. Elrohir, his brother, twin, best friend, and lifelong companion, needed him and he had not been there for him. Instead of leading the search, he had indulged in a useless bout of self-pity. Yes, he had been feeling sorry for himself while he should have been doing everything in his power to find his brother. How remarkably selfish! He was so ashamed of himself. He knew Elrohir was still alive, but hadn't done everything in his power to find him. So what if his brother had lost his sense of self? Somewhere inside he was still Elrohir and deserved better than to be left to whatever fate awaited him. He, Elladan, should have moved heaven and earth to find him and, if healing was not possible, to care for whatever remained of his beloved twin. The fact that he'd turned his back on Elrohir's plight filled him with shame. He despised himself!

Elladan's self-condemnation and preoccupation with his still-missing twin continued during the entire week that he journeyed to the dwarven lands, ceasing only when he finally reached the meeting place indicated on Lord Bremon's directions. For the moment pushing aside his thoughts of Elrohir, the young elf entered the grotto marked on the map with disquiet. It was surrounded by towering rock on three sides and dense forest on the fourth, leaving the small clearing dark and damp. The light-loving elf had to suppress a shudder as he waited for a guide to show up. He didn't like the gloomy place, for it seemed a mocking reflection of his dark mood.

He was only there a few moments alone, though, before a dwarf appeared from amongst the rocks and approached, regarding the elven visitor with thinly veiled hostility. Elladan managed to keep from rolling his eyes at the other's obvious dislike. He really didn't feel like dealing with ignorance and prejudice just now, but managed to keep his thoughts to himself as he politely performed the ritual of greeting with the dwarf. The dour dwarf then gestured toward a nearly-hidden fissure and in short, harsh words, explained that it would lead him to the underground home of Lord Bremon.

Elladan indicated his understanding and then turned to get his pack. He removed it from Isilmë and then gave his companion freedom to roam the forests until called for. A warm farewell for his beloved horse, and then without further delay, the elven lord stepped from the dim light of the grotto into the deeper gloom of the dwarven realm.

Silently, Elladan followed his guide through the winding passageways, grateful at least that the dwarf wasn't inclined to be chatty. As Elladan went deeper and deeper below the surface, though, he heard the occasional skitter of little feet running along the ground and found for the first time that he was also grateful that it was he, rather than Elrohir, who had come to represent their father. While he knew that Elrohir would have been excited to have been asked and would have carried out his duties without hesitation, he also knew that his brother would have hated this journey underground. Even though Elrohir had been in countless caves throughout the years, he had never been able to overcome the dread he had of enclosed, dark spaces filled with scampering rodents. Indeed, with the number of rats he'd seen in just the last few minutes, Elladan found himself very grateful that Elrohir was not here instead of him.

His musings were cut short a while later when he started seeing the first signs of civilization. At first it was just a couple of carved doors blocking several tunnels, then a set of stairs leading down to some unknown destination, and then...as he turned a corner, Elladan almost gasped as he suddenly found himself walking out into a vast cavern, so grand that he couldn't even see the ceiling. The size of the cavern wasn't what stunned him, though. What stunned the young elf was the grandeur of the city before him. And in truth, it could only be called a city. Buildings, roads, people everywhere...it was just like a large city on the surface, only it was buried deep beneath the mountains.

Before he could fully adjust to the surprise of finding such an immense city underground, his attention was caught by a small group approaching them, led by Lord Bremon himself.

The dwarven lord, looking quite commanding here in his own domain, strode forward purposefully and put out his arm in greeting. His face was stern, but his eyes betrayed his good humor with a certain amused twinkle. He knew how often others tended to regard dwarves as dirty creatures who lived in underground hovels. And he knew how the first sight of how they really lived often shocked surface-dwellers. So he was enjoying the elven lord's reaction to the true grandeur of his home. But he also wanted to make sure that his guest felt welcome and boomed out loudly, "Welcome son of Elrond! I have eagerly awaited your arrival."

Without hesitation, Elladan clasped the arm extended to him in friendship, thanked him for his welcome, and then executed a short, formal bow as a form of respect for his host, which Lord Bremon copied in a sign of mutual respect for his honored guest.

Formal greeting aside, the dwarf patted Elladan on the back and winked before saying, "Well, lad, I see that your manners have improved since we first met. Didn't want to stir up a ruckus here, I take it?"

"Lord Bremon," said Elladan seriously, "I must apologize, for I know you believe me to be Elrohir, but I have come in his place. I am his brother, Elladan, sent by my father to finalize the negotiations you spoke of in your missive. Elrohir...Elrohir was unable to come, so I was chosen instead."

The open, friendly look that Lord Bremon had been giving his elven guest disappeared, to be replaced by a shuttered, wary expression. "He wouldn't come? Didn't want to have anything to do with us after all?" With a disappointed sigh he concluded, "I am grieved to know I so misjudged him."

Elladan looked at the dwarf in surprise. He thought Elrohir didn't want to come? "Nay, my lord!" he corrected rapidly. "It is nothing like that. I have no doubts that Elrohir would have been thrilled to receive your request. He is...that is...he has not been home for several weeks. In truth, he never even saw your invitation."

Lord Bremon's brow was furrowed as he regarded his young guest, sensing that there was far more to the story than simply 'Elrohir was not at home.' "Speak plainly, lad," he said gruffly. "What is it you are not saying? Where is your brother?"

Elladan paused. He really didn't feel like talking about Elrohir's latest disappearance. He was having enough trouble dealing with it without having to discuss it as well, but neither did he want to be rude to his host. After all, his father was depending on him to work with the dwarven lord and if he didn't answer him, the dwarf might think Elladan was hiding something. Thus, even though a bit reluctantly, he finally admitted, "Elrohir went missing several weeks ago. He disappeared from our home during the night and we have not been able to find him since."

The expressions that crossed the dwarven lord's face would have been amusing if the subject matter hadn't been so serious. He went from shocked, to dismayed, to horrified, to determined, to resigned in just seconds, leaving Elladan with no clue as to Lord Bremon's real reaction to the news. He just hoped in the end that the dwarf would believe that Elrohir hadn't snubbed his invitation and would still be willing to work with him to finalize the treaty.

"Do you believe dwarves are involved?" Lord Bremon suddenly asked.

Surprised, Elladan was able to answer that question honestly, "Nay. I cannot believe that your people would have slipped into our home to steal him away in the middle of the night. To what end?" He didn't mention that there would have been no way that they could have snuck in undetected, but didn't see any need to add that observation. Instead he said, "I believe..." but then he trailed off, desperately crushing down the feelings of despair that suddenly surfaced as he remembered his brother's violent departure. When he knew he was once more in control, he finished matter-of-factly, "I believe that he somehow lost himself and simply walked away on his own."

But the dwarven leader was good at reading even hidden emotions and saw that his guest was deeply upset by the memory of his brother's disappearance. Lord Bremon was keenly interested himself in finding out what had happened to Elrohir—he had really come to like the young elf in the short time he'd known him—but in the face of the Elladan's carefully masked distress, he decided that now wasn't the time to pursue it further. Instead, he changed the subject briskly and in short order, had arranged to take his newly arrived guest on an extended tour of his home.

-----------

It was, in fact a couple of days before the subject of Elrohir was brought up again. In the meantime, Lord Bremon and Elladan had been working through the details of the treaty and getting to know one another.

Lord Bremon was especially pleased to learn about this older son of Elrond's. In many ways Elladan reminded him greatly of Elrohir. Physically, of course, but the intelligence, strength, and compassion that he'd discerned in Elrohir was also an integral part of the older twin. But there were interesting differences as well. While Elrohir had been quietly courteous and subdued, Elladan had a much more forceful presence. And where Elrohir had been willing to delve into more philosophical discussions, Elladan seemed more inclined to focus solely on his objective. The dwarven lord reflected that it could have been the differing circumstances that led to these dissimilarities, but he didn't think that was the case.

Yes, it was fascinating how two beings, brought up in identical circumstances, could still form their own personalities and Lord Bremon wondered if it had anything to do with the order in which they were born. He was puzzling over that question when he realized with an embarrassed start that he had been staring for quite awhile at Elladan.

The young elf was looking at him questioningly and he grunted, "I am sorry to stare. That was rude. I was just considering how much you and your brother are alike, but still different."

Elladan nodded in understanding and just managed not to sigh. He and his twin had been the subjects of many such looks and comments over the years—it was somewhat annoying, but he was used to it.

Lord Bremon then cleared his throat and added, "Have you ever used your like appearance to fool others?"

"Aye, from time to time," he admitted. Elladan couldn't help the fleeting smile that came to his face. For some reason, it always seemed to be one of the first questions asked when people were discussing the twins. And of course, they had used their likeness to perpetrate many glorious pranks throughout the years.

The dwarf regarded his guest with interest. This was the first time he'd seen any kind of smile on Elladan's face and the mischievous look that he'd briefly seen confirmed his suspicion that this elf would have a wicked sense of humor under better circumstances. It brought his thoughts back to his earlier ponderings and he wondered if Elrohir, too, would have been an amusing sort given a better setting. Then he realized that he had let another long silence pass, so he stated with mild humor, "I am not surprised. Somehow I imagine your father could tell me some interesting stories of what the two of you have done in your day."

Elladan only nodded politely, unwilling to be pulled into a conversation regarding the fun times he had in the past with his now-missing twin.

But Lord Bremon was captivated with the thought of these two identical beings, and missed the non-verbal clues that should have told him to change the subject. Instead he nodded and said with a grin, "Aye, I suppose you kept your parents on their toes when you were younger. Indeed, even now I believe it would be interesting to see what the two of you could come up with together."

Any lightness that was left in Elladan's expression vanished in an instant as he said stonily, "Aye...I would like to see that as well."

Instantly aware of what he'd just done, Lord Bremon kicked himself mentally for his thoughtless comment. "Oh lad," he said with deep apology in his voice, "I am so sorry. Sometimes I get so focused on something that I end up being an insensitive lout." He sighed and added, "And I don't mean to imply that you and your brother are curiosities...it is just that I enjoyed meeting him and have equally enjoyed getting to know you as well. And...and the similarities between the two of you and the differences fascinate me. I expect you are quite used to it, but I have never before met identical beings and the two of you intrigue me."

Elladan nodded lightly as he accepted his companion's apology. He shouldn't let it bother him, for this kind of discussion really was a common occurrence in his life. It was only the fact that Elrohir was missing that made it so hard to bear. Still, that wasn't Lord Bremon's fault so he added quietly, "Elrohir and I are very alike, but we are still two separate beings. And I know that many find that very interesting. And...while I would be happy to discuss it with you further some other time, perhaps for now we should move on to different things."

Lord Bremon knew what Elladan wanted—or rather that the elf did not want to discuss his brother further. But as long as the subject was already opened, the dwarven lord decided that it was time to open a conversation that he had been dreading.

With a mental apology for what he knew would be tough for Elladan, he stated, "As long as we're on the subject of your brother, there is something I need to tell you. Something of which I am deeply ashamed, so I have not been sure how to approach it."

Elladan gave his host a troubled look. He did not like the sound of this and wasn't sure he wanted to know what Lord Bremon was alluding to. But he held back and did not say anything when the dwarf stood up and walked over to a side table against the far wall.

Lord Bremon regarded a small pouch that was resting on the table before picking it up and then walked back to his guest, holding the bag lightly as if he were weighing it. Then he carefully placed it down on the table between them, sat back down, and gulped in some air before plunging ahead, "There are those of us who do not like elves and would not lift a finger to help one in need. In fact, there are sadly those who would go out of their way to torment any elf if they had the opportunity."

Ell felt his stomach tightening painfully. He was afraid of where this conversation was heading and now knew that he didn't want to hear it. He wanted to jump up. He wanted to run away, but somehow his legs wouldn't obey him and he sat, eyes glued on the dwarf as he waited apprehensively.

His worst suspicions were confirmed when his host continued, "I learned that a few years ago, there was an elf who was unfortunate enough to come across that kind of dwarf, or rather, they came across him. The elf was...found by some of my men who heard angry shouts and came upon group of elves arguing. Before they got too near, the elves ran, leaving behind one of their own who was badly beaten."

The dwarf had the grace to look utterly ashamed as he continued, "My people took the elf and treated the worst of his wounds to keep him alive, but did little else to see to his comfort. In fact, they were unkind to him...even cruel, as they saw his presence as a chance for revenge against all elves. They justified their cruelty to one who had done them no harm by deciding that he must have been a criminal, since it had been other elves that were beating him."

Pausing in his bitter narrative, the dwarf looked over at his companion, who was now resting his head in one of his hands, his eyes covered. He could only imagine how Elladan felt—in fact, he felt ill himself—but now that he had started, he had to finish his story.

His voice tight with sorrow for what his people had done, he continued, "They weren't sure what to do with the elf, for they were far away from our lands and did not have time to be caring for one so severely wounded. Thus, after a few days, when they came across a passing group of traders who offered to take him off their hands, they decided to sell him, knowing full well that they were dooming him to a life of slavery."

Lord Bremon paused once again and looked back at Elladan, but recoiled in surprise. Elladan had removed his hand from his face and the absolutely furious look on it was startling. For the first time, the dwarf realized that, although young by elven standards, this elf was not one to be trifled with and he was obliged to adjust his thinking. He had been seeing Elladan as just a young representative of his father, and only now realized that this elf was a force to be reckoned with in his own right.

"It is clear you know where this story is going," the dwarven lord said grimly, regarding his guest with a renewed sense of respect. "Aye...it is your brother of whom I am speaking."

"How did you know?" was the only thing the stony-faced elf ground out.

"How did I know what?" asked Lord Bremon confused, but wary.

"How did you know that dwarves had hurt him? Were you already aware of their actions when you came to see us? Elrohir would not have told you what had been done to him," Elladan accused with an angry glare.

"No...he did not," allowed the dwarf, keeping his own anger in check for he realized the source of Elladan's anger was a deep, aching sorrow for his brother's past suffering. Still, he was not about to be intimidated, so he added, "But although I am small and short-lived by your standards, I am no fool. Elrohir told me nothing, but as I started to add up what I learned about him and his reaction to me, I decided that something terrible must have happened between him and dwarves in the past. Thus, when I returned home, I started asking questions, and finally heard the story that I just related to you." He added kindly, "I do not tell you this to torment you, lad, but rather so I can apologize. I am deeply sorry for what Elrohir endured at the hands of my people."

With a shuddering breath, Elladan seemed to deflate. He lowered his fiery gaze and dropped his face into both hands. Elrohir had given him some indication of what had transpired, but to hear Lord Bremon state how callously his brother had been sold only brought back that helpless feeling of rage—that impotent fury at not being there to save his brother. He ached to go back in time and intervene on his brother's behalf, but knowing that to be impossible, his only refuge was to stop listening to things that his twin had had to endure. Speaking with his face still covered, he said in a choked voice, "I thank you for your apology, Lord Bremon, but please...I do not wish to hear any more."

The dwarf lord walked over to the distressed elf and awkwardly patted him on the shoulder, saying, "I am sorry, Elladan. I have one more thing that I must say, but then I will speak no more on the subject."

He felt the elf tense up, as if waiting for a blow. Hating to have caused his young visitor such anguish, he said quietly, "My men gave all his belongings to the traders except for this." He carefully slid the small pouch in front of Elladan as he finished, "I'd hoped to give it back to Elrohir personally with my apologies...and to tell him that I could fully understand why he reacted as he did to me. Perhaps...perhaps you can give it to him some day with my regrets."

Elladan looked through his fingers at the little bag on the table and then lowered his hands before looking apprehensively at the dwarf by his side. The dwarf's expression was full of compassion and regret, which only made Elladan more reluctant to see what was in the nondescript little bag. Finally, though, with nerves so taut that he felt he might shatter, Elladan reluctantly picked up the bag and dumped the contents out onto the table.

His breath left him in a great whoosh as he saw what lay there. It was Elrohir's brooch. They had never talked about it, but it had gone missing along with his twin and no one had ever expected to see it again. It was an exact duplicate of the one that he wore, except for the color of the stone. Each of Elrond's children had been given one when they came of age, the only difference being the stone—his was blue, Elrohir's was green, Arwen's was red, and Estel's was golden. The jeweled pin before him had a green stone, so it had to be Elrohir's.

Elladan slowly covered its bright beauty with his hand and then squeezed it so hard that it would have been crushed if it had been made of weaker material. Eyes full of pain, he looked up at the worried dwarf and barely managed a hoarse, "Thank you. Elrohir will welcome its return."

The dwarf nodded and gruffly offered, "If it makes you feel any better, I have punished the ones who sold him as much as I was able to. They broke no law, except that of simple moral decency, so I was limited in what I could do. But I assure you that those responsible will never again be so cruel to one in need. They were formidable warriors all, but have been reassigned as household servants until the time that I think they have learned their lesson. No matter how long it takes, they will remain as such until they have learned the value of compassion."

It was a strange punishment, but as Elladan considered, he decided that it might be fitting after all. He could only imagine how horrible it would be if his father were to withdraw his status as a warrior and forced him instead to work as a kitchen servant, a nursery worker, a housekeeper, or perhaps a messenger. At that thought, Elladan suddenly remembered the angry dwarf who had escorted him down and he realized that he had probably met one of the dwarves that had tortured and then sold his brother. For an instant he wanted to run out and find that dwarf and pulverize him, but upon reflection decided that Lord Bremon's way was possibly more satisfying. A beating would be over shortly, but this way the dwarf would have to live with the consequences of his actions for a long, long time. Unexpectedly satisfied, Elladan nodded grimly and said, "It is good...and I believe Elrohir would approve as well."

Lord Bremon viewed his guest through thoughtful eyes before he sat back down. As long as Elladan had mentioned Elrohir himself, the dwarf figured that it would be safe to continue to discuss him. As long as he avoided mentioning Elrohir's difficult times, he decided that he should add something else—something that he thought would be good for Elladan to hear.

With a careful eye on his young guest, the dwarf stated quietly, "In the short time I knew Elrohir, I liked him very much. And, I admit, I wasn't prepared to. I was so angry at what I thought was his narrow-minded attitude, that when your father arranged a meeting between us, I was ready to dislike him intensely. Arrogant little upstart, I thought. Instead, Elrohir did more in just a few minutes to dispel some of my own misconceptions about the character of elves than dozens of diplomats had done in countless previous meetings. It took strength and courage to come to me the way he did. Oh, I know your father told him to come and apologize, but I could see that the way he did it and the words he used were all his own. He was genuinely contrite and after his apology, made and effort to be quite charming. He was an unexpected surprise and I look forward to getting to know him better one day. And I say that because I believe he will return one day. I could see in him the heart of a fighter and know he will somehow find his way back."

Lord Bremon had picked the right thing to say—Elladan had heard enough of how his brother had been hurt to last him a lifetime. But to hear instead the conviction that he would return and the simple, honest praise for his twin was a balm to his aching heart and for the first time since he'd arrived, the young elf gave his host a warm smile.

Smiling back in response, pleased that he had finally made the somber elf smile, the dwarf continued, "There are those of us who oppose this treaty between our peoples, but when I see the character of Elrond's sons, I know that I do the right thing." He grinned at the sudden surprise on Elladan's face and added, "Yes, lad, I speak of you as well as Elrohir. You've good souls, you and your brother, and I'm pleased that fate has put the two of you in my path."

Elladan heard his host's praise with genuine pleasure, but wasn't certain how he should respond. In just the past few minutes, he had gone from annoyed, to upset, to furious, to painfully distressed, and now...now to gratified. The widely fluctuating reactions had left him uncommonly off-center and he had trouble coming up with a smooth, articulate response. Finally, he shrugged and said what was in his heart, "I am pleased as well that I have had this opportunity to get to know you. If nothing else, I am content that I can add you to that group I call 'friend.'" His eyes filled with gratitude as he added, "And I deeply thank you for your kind words regarding my brother. It is good to be reminded of his strengths rather than focusing on the despair of his unknown whereabouts. I needed that reminder of his fighting spirit, for it gives me renewed optimism that he will soon be with us again. And...I will forever regard you as one who showed me the light of hope after a long darkness...thank you."

The dwarf's response was gruff and mumbled...and Elladan couldn't understand a word he said. It was clear that his companion had been embarrassed by Elladan's heartfelt gratitude and in short order, to Elladan's complete amusement, the dwarf changed the conversation entirely and soon Elladan was being subjected to a long discourse on the inner workings of the latest mining operations.

----------------------------

The rest of Elladan's visit passed swiftly as he and Lord Bremon put the finishing touches on the treaty and then spent his last day touring around the dwarven lands. Elladan was amazed by the productive, cheerful society that was buried deep in the earth and gained a new appreciation for dwarves in general. And the dwarf lord was a good host, regaling his guest with tales from dwarven history as well as countless humorous anecdotes about his own exploits. All in all, it had been a good visit.

Thus, when Elladan started back for home he was in a much better mood than when he'd left. He knew he'd represented his people well and had to admit that he'd very much enjoyed Lord Bremon's warm hospitality. But as the dwarven realm fell further and further behind, any sense of peace he'd managed to acquire slowly drained out of him. As each mile passed and he began to contemplate the bitter emptiness still facing him at home, the face of Elrond's eldest became harder and harder, and after awhile was set in determined, yet grim lines.

After four days of hard travel, Elladan left the mountains and started across the vast plains that lay between his home and the dwarven realm. He traveled fast, eyes always on the horizon as he journeyed home, dreading the news that awaited him and yet clear now that he should take his proper place in the search for his brother. His new friend had been right—Elrohir was a fighter and he should never have given up on him. His pathetic days of hiding behind his own misery were over and it was time for him to go home and find his brother!

About a day's journey into the plains, his keen eyes noted a rider coming toward him from the opposite direction. He kept track of the rider for hours as the speck became bigger and bigger. When he was finally close enough, Elladan noted that it was a dark-haired rider on an elven horse and, for just a moment, his interest was piqued as he wondered if his father was sending him a messenger regarding Elrohir's whereabouts. But just as quickly, he crushed that thought. Hoping that Elrohir had been found would only lead to despair, so he ruthlessly shut away his curiosity and would only glance over from time to time to track the rider's progress.

As they came closer, though, Elladan couldn't help but notice how the rider and horse worked in perfect harmony. The two flew across the plains, soaring over obstacles as if they had wings.

An involuntary smile crept across his face as he saw the two charge forward, never veering around even the largest barrier in their path, instead leaping over them, one after another. He could sense the joy in them and could almost imagine the grin on the rider's face as the pair effortlessly leapt over the latest obstacle in their path. The rider was just like Elrohir—born to be one with his horse. The thought escaped before Elladan could suppress it and his smile faded as he felt an irrational anger blossoming inside him. He had needed no reminder of his crippling loss. No longer interested in watching them, he deliberately looked away from the approaching pair and instead focused intently on the hills in the far distance that marked the edge of his homeland. He couldn't wait to be home.

Refusing to take notice of the rider didn't make him go away, however. The horse and his companion continued on an intercept course with Elladan, regardless of the fact that the older twin declined to even glance their way.

Thus, after grimly ignoring the approaching horse, Elladan was not at all prepared when he heard a painfully familiar voice call to him, "Elladan!"

He lurched with shock and would have fallen off the back of his horse except for Isilmë's quick side-step, which kept his rider safe. His eyes unwillingly drawn to the rider, he looked over and saw that he was much closer than expected—only a few hundred yards away. In disbelief, he stared into the face of the rider and, with sickening clarity, saw his brother's face smiling in greeting as he raced forward.

With just a nudge from his knee, Elladan directed Isilmë to turn right, away from the path of the approaching pair, but was taken aback when his horse didn't heed his command. Trying again with a stronger nudge, he was shocked when Isilmë instead shook his head and continued toward the other horse and rider. Cursing under his breath, Elladan solved the problem of his recalcitrant steed by leaping off his back and walking in the direction he wanted to go. He wanted nothing to do with this phantom rider. He would go home on foot if he had to!

He had gone only a few feet, however, when he heard that all too familiar voice call again, "Elladan! Stop!"

The older twin did stop, but after a short glance, refused to look at the horse and rider that now blocked his path. He didn't know what form of madness had overtaken him, but he did know that it couldn't be Elrohir and Raumo before him. It couldn't be. They weren't real!

Long minutes passed while neither elf said anything. Then Elladan heard his imaginary companion say quietly, "Dan, please look at me."

Elladan then did look at the other, glaring. The other elf dismounted and then walked forward before stopping hesitantly just in front of Elladan. The shadow the other created moved with him and when it fell across Elladan's foot, Elrond's eldest considered...very well, maybe it wasn't Elrohir, but this...this person wasn't just a figment of his imagination either. There was someone before him. Someone who was about to find out that they shouldn't play games with one of Rivendell's lords!

"Who are you?" he asked in a lordly, commanding tone, intended to strike fear in the one who dared to pretend to be his brother.

"Who am I?!" responded Elrohir in surprise. When he realized that Elladan was serious, however, he answered quietly, "It is Elrohir, your brother. I am really here, Dan. I am Elrohir. I came to find you...for I could no longer bear to be apart."

His soft words did not have the desired effect, however. Elladan snapped back in fury, "How dare you pretend to be Elrohir! And how stupid do you think I am? You expect me to believe that my missing brother would ride up to me, on a horse that has been missing even longer than he? The same missing brother, who when last seen, smashed me over the head and then disappeared into the night? You expect me to believe that he would now, after all this time, simply ride up to me and say 'here I am'? I ask again, who are you!?"

Elrohir looked at his angry brother in a mix of frustration and bemusement. This certainly was not the reunion he was expecting. Allowing a touch of that frustration to lace his words, he responded, "Dan! You have cut yourself off from me, or you would not have to ask who I am. Come, open up your senses and you will realize that I speak the truth—I am Elrohir."

The older twin regarded his companion suspiciously. He and Elrohir rarely spoke of the bond between them—the intangible something that linked the two of them. How would the other know about it unless.... He paused and then cautiously considered letting down a piece of the barrier he had built up inside, the barricade that he had formed when he had thought Elrohir lost forever. That barrier had been his only way of protecting himself from the crushing despair of aloneness that he had felt whenever he reached for that inner place and found emptiness instead of his brother's presence. But if this other knew about it, then maybe.... No, he daren't think along those lines. Shoving back the small glimmer of hope he'd been feeling, Elladan hissed, "You lie. You cannot be who you say. If nothing else, my Elrohir does not ride horses."

Finally finding something he could feel sure about, Elrohir grinned and stated, "Do not speak nonsense. You know that I have always loved horses. You, more than any, know how much, for you were the one who always shared my punishment when I would sneak away to see them. Just because I forgot for awhile, does not change my love for them. Now, enough of this foolishness. Please come here and allow me to give you a welcoming hug. I have sorely missed you, brother."

Elladan regarded his companion who held out his arms. He certainly sounded like Elrohir, and of course he looked like Elrohir. But before he could believe, he had to know, "How?"

Elrohir, who had really been hoping to save explanations for later, sighed and dropped his arms—so much for the reunion he'd been envisioning as he flew across the plains. But what must be, must be, and so with a few, sparse explanations, he described how he'd been taken, held in the stables, and then released. Elladan had more questions, however, and pressed his companion for more and more details about what had transpired, causing Elrohir to start over with his narrative and explain how everything had begun, years before. Elrohir was frustrated at having the joyous reunion he'd been picturing ruined by reciting these unpleasant details, but at least by the time he was done, Elladan seemed to finally accept that it really was his brother who stood before him

"So, Polinas, Kalen, and Matias tried to kill you in order to punish me?" he asked.

"Well, more or less," answered Elrohir. "I believe their original intent was to leave me injured and somehow lead you to my broken body as a...as a means of punishing you. They did not intentionally plan for things to be quite so brutal, but...well...it got out of hand when bloodlust overcame their restraint. They were stopped, however, when they heard the dwarves approaching. So they fled, and left me."

"They just left you to die? And do they, themselves, still live?" the older twin asked with a cold fury, clearly revealing his conviction that they should have had to pay dearly for their treachery.

"Aye, they live. At least, Kalen and Matias do. But their fate has been decided. They have been punished...banished. And Polinas..." Elrohir hesitated a moment before continuing, not sure about how to describe his fate. His grandfather had come to him just before he had left to relate what Galadriel had told him. She had discerned that Polinas had never arrived at the meeting place for those elves who wished to sail away. Somewhere along the trail, he had vanished. Elrohir shrugged as he continued, "I know not what happened to Polinas. He left some time ago to join his family, but never made it to the gathering point. Perhaps he met some terrible fate, or perhaps he simply decided to wait before he left. I do not know. Regardless, he too is gone from our home."

Elladan considered his brother's words carefully before he said grimly, "It is good that they are not home, for I would not be able to keep my hands from their throats after what they did to you."

Elrohir nodded gravely at those words. He was sure he would have felt the same way if it had been Elladan who had been hurt. But now he was ready to think about other things. With a hopeful look at his brother, he said, "We will have plenty of time to discuss their fates—or anything else you wish—later, but for now I wish to move on. So, are you done with the questions? Do you accept that I am really me?"

Elladan allowed himself a short little smile and nodded, which was all the invitation Elrohir needed. He flew toward his brother and wrapped his arms around Elladan, grinning...finally! For the briefest moment, Elrohir was blissfully happy, but then he began to sense something was still wrong. Elladan had lightly returned his hug, but something still felt...off.

Pulling back, Elrohir regarded his brother with confusion and a bit of hurt in his eyes, but Elladan refused to meet his gaze. "Come, we should start home," was all the older twin said.

Deciding that Elladan just needed some time to get over the shock of his return, Elrohir pushed aside his own unhappiness and followed his brother, remounting and setting off for home.

---------------------------

Another day passed as the two quietly crossed the plains. From time to time, they would talk, but mostly it was the kind of day-to-day discourse of traveling companions—when to stop to eat, where they should camp for the night, and so on. Elrohir had tried to engage his brother in more meaningful conversations, but after several unsuccessful attempts, he finally gave up and lapsed into his own, brooding silence.

As he rode, the younger twin tried to make sense of it all. Of all the reactions that Elrohir could have expected from his twin, this...this indifference wasn't one of them. From the way Elladan was acting, one might have thought that Elrohir had simply been returning from an evening stroll rather than the bewildering mess of the past three years. He thought he knew his twin as well as he knew himself, but he couldn't understand why Elladan was acting so distant. What was going on?

He tried to be understanding and patient, but when Elladan's unusual coldness continued for a second day, even the tolerant Elrohir started to become angry. He wanted answers, but mostly he wanted things to be right between them. There was no need for this continuing distance and he was determined to put a stop to it!

He was careful to bide his time, however, and waited until he thought Elladan was in a more receptive mood. That came after they had stopped for lunch, which was an almost pleasant affair as they quietly talked about things that they wanted to do once they got home. But when Elrohir steered the conversation towards whatever was bothering his twin, Elladan abruptly stood up and coolly announced that they shouldn't be wasting time and should put out the fire and start for home.

Elrohir stood up as well and blocked his brother's path. He had had enough!

"What is wrong with you?" he demanded. "From the way you are treating me, I might as well be a stranger traveling in the same direction as you. Tell me why you are pushing me away. Talk to me!"

Elladan was angry with being confronted and shoved his brother aside. He started to walk on, but then he turned back, his words harsh and angry, "What is it that you want? You disappear for years without a trace. You return, but do not even remember me. Then just as I begin to accept things, you leave again. And now you have once more returned. So what? You expect me to rejoice? You want me to be happy? Do you want some kind of jolly welcome from me? Perhaps I not say it properly. Maybe if I do it right you will get off my back. How about... 'Welcome back, Elrohir. I am pleased to see you looking so well.' Or maybe... 'Good to see you again, Elrohir. How long do you plan to stay this time?' Does that suit your needs?"

Feeling like he'd been slapped, Elrohir could only gasp, "Elladan..."

Still with the unfamiliar harshness, Elladan snapped, "What? You are not pleased with those greetings either? How picky you have become, brother!"

He once more turned away, but then abruptly spun back around and grabbed his brother's arm. Squeezing it hard enough to bruise, he said in a voice made unrecognizable by fury, "You insist on knowing what is wrong? Fine! Here it is. I dread the thought of returning home with you. The only time in recent memory that I have felt any sense of peace is while I was in the dwarven realm, far away from you and all the drama that surrounds you. In truth, I have grown tired of the turmoil that engulfs all around you. It saps the joy from life and I cannot begin to understand why you allow it to happen, unless perhaps it is all a ploy to get attention."

Elrohir felt rooted to the spot upon which he stood as he listened to the poisonous words coming from his brother. As each one seared its way into his heart, he felt the blood drain from his face, leaving him lightheaded and ill. A faint recollection came back to him as he remembered once fearing this very thing—that Elladan had tired of him. But that had only been when he had just left the stables, when he had been so physically and emotionally depleted. At no other time had he even considered such a horrible thought. But the anger coming from Elladan was not some made-up nightmare and his words were all-too clear.

The younger twin stood in breathless shock until Elladan's last words shook him back into reality. How could Elladan even think that he had staged any of these events for attention?! It was beyond considering! Finally finding voice again, he choked out, "I do not know why you say these things, for I have never known you to be so deliberately cruel, and...and if anyone else were to say such things, nothing would save them from a sound thrashing! But I will not stand here and listen to more." Viciously yanking his arm out of his brother's grasp, he turned to him, his face twisted by torment and anger. Not even bothering to blink away the tears that brimmed in his eyes, he whispered raggedly, "I travel alone, for I can no longer bear your presence."

---------------------------

After Elrohir leapt onto his horse's back and bolted off, Elladan sat back down, his legs weak as the intense emotion drained from him. He scooted over to the fire that he and Elrohir had used to cook their lunch and sat there, hugging his knees.

Elrohir's question and the look on his face haunted him. What was wrong with him? Elrohir was back. He was completely healed. And he even had his memories. Every single hope and prayer of Elladan's had been answered, so why wasn't he greeting his brother with the unbounded joy he deserved rather than pushing him away? What had made him say those hateful things when he knew he didn't mean any of them? He had left the dwarven realm determined to find his brother, but now that he was here, he couldn't bear to be with him. Elrohir deserved so much better—how could he have been so cruel?

He sat there by the fire, the passage of time meaningless as he tried to find the answers. What could possibly make him push away his twin, his best friend? Why had he said the very things that he knew would make Elrohir leave? What was it about Elrohir's presence that had made him desperate to get away from him?

As he carefully sifted through his feelings, the answer began to crystallize in front of him. It wasn't pretty. Proud, courageous, dauntless Elladan...was terrified. Plain and simple, he was afraid. Part of it was a crushing fear that he would begin to feel alive again, only to have Elrohir vanish as before, leaving him once more bewilderingly alone. Another part was a fear that he wouldn't be strong enough to protect him...that yet again he would fail in his duty to keep his other half safe. And finally there was a fear...a gut-churning fear that once Elrohir knew how he had been abandoned—how his brother hadn't even bothered to look for him—that Elrohir would turn his back on him and despise him. Yes, that was by far the worst fear of all, knowing that his weakness had caused him to break his long-ago promise to always be there for his twin. He couldn't forgive himself and didn't know how he could face his brother and tell him what he'd done. It was that which had caused him to push Elrohir away, for if he made Elrohir go away, then it wouldn't be Elrohir leaving him. It was, doubtless, an irrational way to address his problems, but fears of the heart are rarely logical.

It was those selfsame fears and now a bitter sense of loathing that kept the young elf by the fire for hours, not moving even when the blaze slowly died down into a bed of coals and finally, into dark ash. But Elladan had a firm inner core of strength and spirit, and as he sat there, he began to realize that he had never been the kind to allow his fears to rule his life—that he was the kind to face his fears head on. And once he acknowledged that, he also realized just how deeply wrong and hurtful he had been to Elrohir and, no matter what happened, he owed his brother an explanation and a huge apology. He had to go make things right. Feeling infinitely better for having decided to do something positive, Elladan quickly broke camp and then raced after his fleeing twin.

--------------

It took Elladan nearly two days to catch Elrohir, for the younger elf rode like the wind as he tried to escape his twin's verbal wounds. Elladan at last found him in the low foothills on the far side of the plains, where thankfully Elrohir had decided to rest Raumo before finishing the journey home.

Elladan almost smiled when he caught his first glimpse of Elrohir, sitting on a large boulder overlooking a rushing stream. Of course. Where else would he have expected to find him? Ever since they had been little elflings, whenever Elrohir was very bothered by something he'd find solace either with his beloved horses or near water, be it a lake, a stream, or even a small pond. Yes, that was where he'd always ended up when he needed something to soothe a troubled spirit and Elladan knew that he had given his brother plenty to be troubled about.

He didn't announce his presence as he approached the rock, but knew that Elrohir was aware of him. The bond that they shared made it impossible to sneak up on each other, and he could tell that Elrohir had not closed himself off to his twin, as he himself had done earlier.

Elladan nimbly climbed up the boulder and sat down next to his brother, but Elrohir didn't look at him or acknowledge him in any way except a slight tightening of his jaw.

The two sat thus in silence for what seemed to Elladan to be an eternity, but he couldn't think of what to say to breach the wall that had never stood between them before. How could he explain why he had said those hateful words? He wanted to make Elrohir understand, but a remnant of that unrelenting fear—Elrohir's certain rejection of him—made the words impossible to find. Desperately groping to think of a way to heal the wounds he had caused, the older twin hesitated too long and finally it was Elrohir who broke the silence.

In a cold, harsh tone, the young elf asked, "Do you know how many hours I lay alone in the dark, feeling as if I would be left there forever?.....And how many days passed as I struggled to learn who I was, bit by bit? Do you know how often I longed for the company of my captors, just so I would not be alone? Well, I do not expect you to answer, for I myself do not know how long it lasted, as those early days and hours of my captivity were ones of senseless confusion in which time had no meaning."

Elrohir glared briefly at his brother before once more looking at the stream as he continued, "But what did have meaning was the one image I held on to as a beacon of hope—the only light in an otherwise bleak existence."

His voice dropped to almost a whisper as he hissed, "That image was you, Elladan, although at first I did not even know who you were. But when I pictured you in my mind, I was comforted and found the strength to go on."

At that Elrohir paused and glanced at Elladan, expecting him to say something.

The older twin did not speak, though. He couldn't. As he imagined the scene his brother described and thought of his Elrohir lying in the dark finding comfort by thinking of him...well, it caused him such a physical pain that he had to fight from doubling over.

Nodding as if he wasn't surprised at his brother's lack of response, Elrohir continued, his voice still harsh with anger, "Aye, thoughts of you gave me the strength to fight to regain my memories...for I knew that I would have to remember before I could find my way back to the one that would make me whole. And even after I was released...even when I was home and had my memories as well...even then I fought to come to you. It was not an easy task to convince Ada to let me leave. To say he was reluctant to let me go anywhere alone is a terrible understatement. But I had to find you and could not simply sit around and wait any longer, so he eventually agreed that I should go."

He glanced once more at his brother, still hoping for some kind of response, but Elladan wouldn't meet his gaze, not giving anything away as he listened to his twin.

"But now," for the first time, the anger in Elrohir's voice slipped as he continued, revealing a glimpse of the deep hurt that he was feeling. "Now that I am finally with you...now I feel more alone than ever. Why? What have I done? Do you really not wish to be around me?" he asked, the agonizing pain in that question palpable.

Elladan had been listening to his twin in growing horror. What had he done?! He had let his fear and shame hurt the one most dear to him in all the world. In his utter dismay, he shook his head. NO! He couldn't believe his stupid fears could have allowed him to hurt his beloved brother so badly.

Elrohir didn't see his twin's face, though, and couldn't know what he was thinking. Instead, he only saw the shake of Elladan's head and—like all the other cruel tricks that fate had recently thrown the twins—took the gesture to be the answer to his question. It was true. His nightmare was still not over. Elladan had meant those hateful words—he had grown tired of him and no longer wanted him around.

Feeling like he'd been stabbed in the heart, Elrohir lurched forward and slid down off the rock, desperate to get away, not caring where he went. Tear-blind eyes hid the uneven path, though, and he tripped over one of the many roots that criss-crossed the trail. Despairing, not even bothering to catch himself, he might have had a nasty fall, but strong arms caught him and held him tightly.

Elrohir, hurt and angry, pulled away, only to be grabbed again. Stubbornly, he tried to get away yet again and managed to get a few feet away before Elladan tackled him and Elrohir found himself lying facedown on the path.

Still, he tried to pull away, but Elladan wouldn't let him go.

Finally finding his voice, the older twin said, "Ro, I am not going to let you go until you hear me out. Please be still."

Elrohir struggled futilely. Horribly upset, he just didn't want to listen to his twin tell him why they should go their separate ways. He fought furiously to get away, but Elladan was just as resolute, and he didn't allow his brother to escape.

Two equally determined elves wrestled in the dirt, but in the end it was Elladan who triumphed and pinned his brother to the ground. Thus, forced to accept that Elladan wasn't going to let him go, Elrohir suddenly fell limp and motionless, breathing raggedly with his face in the dirt. Gentle hands then turned him over and he found himself unwillingly looking into his brother's face.

"Dear Elrohir, I am so sorry," said Elladan in a voice made raspy from emotion. "Time and again I hurt you, although it has never been my intent. I am so sorry," he repeated.

"Let me go," whispered Elrohir, desperate to get away before he had to listen to Elladan explain why he no longer wanted him around.

"No," answered his twin, his heart breaking as he looked down at the dirty, tear-stained face of his brother. "I told you. Not until you hear me out."

Elrohir shook his head and one last time tried to throw off his brother, but was no more successful than before. Elladan had always been better at wrestling and in short order, had his brother pinned once more to the ground. But the younger twin was not completely beaten. He knew he would not be able to escape, so he turned his head to the side, refusing to look at his brother.

Elladan was starting to despair. "Ro, please!" he begged, tears finally spilling from his eyes to fall softly onto his brother's neck.

It was that that finally broke through to Elrohir. Elladan was crying! Elladan never cried! In his shock, he turned back and stared at his brother.

Elladan caught his breath and returned the unblinking stare. After a few moments, he cautiously loosened his hold and asked, "If I let you up, you will listen? Not run?"

Reluctantly, Elrohir nodded his agreement and the two warily watched each other before Elladan lightly climbed off his brother's legs and helped him to sit up, keeping a tight hold on his forearms as if he didn't fully trust the younger twin to stay put.

Forcing himself to a calmness he did not feel, he commanded, "Elrohir, now you listen to me."

When his brother scowled and looked away, Elladan shook him gently and tried again, "Ro, I am sorry. Look at me...please?"

The younger twin looked back at his brother, and then guardedly waited for him to speak.

Once he was sure he had his attention, Elladan spoke, "Ro, I have handled this all wrong from the start, so I must make one thing clear straight off—I will always want to be with you. It is our destiny to be at each other's side. Nothing and no one will ever change that."

When Elrohir opened his mouth as if to interrupt, Elladan held up his hand and said forcefully, "Let me finish. As I was saying, I will always wish to be with you and I am so sorry if my behavior implied otherwise. Nay...let me say it correctly...I am so sorry that my behavior did imply otherwise and...and my words as well. I...I did not mean them. It is just that I...that is...I...," he broke off, even now unable to continue.

But Elrohir, by this time, was finally beginning to understand. The bond between the twins was still there and as strong as ever. It had never been broken. Elrohir accepted the profound relief and gratitude that washed over him with that thought, but nonetheless pushed it aside for the moment as he considered—there had to be something else. Something that Elladan was desperately afraid of. Something that was causing him enough pain that he would act in an unthinkable way. Elrohir knew his brother, though, and thought he might know just what that 'something' was. But he also knew that Elladan would have to bring it out in to the open and admit to it before it could be laid aside for good. So he prompted softly, "Dan, if you do not wish to be alone, then why do you shut yourself off from me? Why do you seem angry that I have returned?"

Elladan laughed at that—a sound that was more like a sob. "Angry that we are together again? Elrohir, that cannot be farther from the truth. But...but you will hate me when I tell you what I have done."

Elrohir blinked in surprise. Well...he hadn't quite expected that. "Hate you? What have I ever done to make you think I could hate you? Do you think so little of me? Of my loyalty? Certainly, we have fought from time-to-time like any brothers, but we have always forgiven each other. No matter what you think you've done, why should this time be any different?"

Elladan shook his head, still afraid to tell his brother. Instead, he finally let go of his twin's arms and sat back in the dirt with a thud—after all this, he still didn't know how to tell Elrohir that he'd given up on him

Tentatively reaching forward and gently wiping off the tears that had stained his brother's face, Elrohir prompted, "You know you will feel better once you tell me what is bothering you. Please, let me know what has you so upset."

But Elladan jerked back from the loving gesture, unwilling to accept its comfort and choked, "We promised we would always be there for each other. And I failed you. How could you ever forgive that?"

Elrohir closed his eyes in relief. Finally. Yes, that was what he had thought was bothering that oh-so protective brother of his. And now that it was in the open, they could get this wound cauterized and move on. He opened his eyes and with a soft smile began, "Elladan, I knew..."

But he was cut off as Elladan leapt to his feet and yelled, "Did you not hear? I did not look for you! I gave up! Ada told me to trust in you and I did not. Instead of knowing that you would find your way back, I wallowed in self-pity. You were right under my nose and I didn't find you!"

Elrohir tried to speak, but his brother didn't give him a chance to say anything before he screamed, "Do you not understand?! I DID NOT EVEN LOOK FOR YOU! After all of our promises to each other, I let you down. Me. Me! Your twin. The one who should always be there for you! I cannot forgive myself for that and do not expect you to. NOW do you understand?!"

Elladan, having finally admitted what had been eating him alive for weeks, stared at his brother, his breath coming in deep gulps as he waited to see the ugly realization wash over his twin's face—waited for him to leap up and disappear forever.

Elrohir did get up, but instead of leaving in disgust, he bit his lip and then closed the distance between the two of them, hesitating just briefly before giving in to instinct and carefully wrapping his brother in loving, forgiving arms.

Elladan refused to believe. This must be Elrohir's way of saying 'goodbye.' He stood like a statue, not daring to return his brother's embrace. This was the moment that he had been dreading, the moment that he had feared.

But Elrohir only held him tighter and whispered earnestly, "As I know myself, I know you. And while you may have been tired and heartsick believing I was lost, I know that you would have ultimately put that aside and endlessly led the search until I was found. I know this!"

"But...but I did not find you...you should despise me," said Elladan, shivering now as he tried to keep his emotions tightly leashed, still afraid to hope.

"Never," was the simple response.

Unable to believe that his fears were completely groundless, Elladan drew in a shuddering breath. "You could forgive me?" he asked, his unsteady voice almost inaudible.

Elrohir squeezed his brother so hard that the other elf almost couldn't breathe. "Oh Dan, there is nothing you have done, or failed to do, that requires my forgiveness. But if that is what you need, you have it, without reservation."

Elladan began to tremble even harder and finally, hesitantly, he brought his arms up and with a whispered, "Ro," engulfed his brother in his own, breath-stealing embrace.

The following minutes were lost to conscious thought. The two had been through so much. There had been so much pain, loneliness, confusion, fear, anguish. There had been so many times all had seemed lost—not only hope, but the joy, friendship, strength, and love that they drew from each other. For their ordeal to finally be over and for them to find themselves exactly where they needed to be, was more than they could even consciously comprehend. Instead, they allowed their feelings to pour across the bond that had linked the two since before birth, finding healing and comfort in each other's arms.

An untold amount of time later, the twins finally drew back and looked into each other's eyes, reaffirming that all was as it should be. Mirror images of relief and love illuminated their faces and even the silent tears of joy seemed to roll down their cheeks in unison.

Eventually, however, the two found themselves back in the real world and they pulled away from each other, wiping their faces and not knowing what to say after the intense emotion they had just experienced.

Finally, Elladan solved the problem by retreating into humor. With wry amusement, he said, "Some warriors we make! Weeping like little lost elflings. If word gets out, we are ruined!"

Elrohir caught on and joined in the game, "Aye...perhaps we should destroy all witnesses before anyone hears and our image is forever tarnished." He grinned and put his hand on his sword, glancing around as if in search of a foe to kill.

It was at that precise moment that a small rabbit chose to poke its head out from under the bush next to the twins and after a slight pause, hopped away frantically.

One look at each other, and the twins burst out laughing, falling into each others arms as they tried to stay upright but failing as they laughed themselves silly. Finally, they ended up on the ground, holding each other up as they allowed the laughter to cleanse away the remaining tension.

Once the chuckles had finally stopped, they shifted around until they were back-to-back, leaning against the other as they had done countless times in the past. They sat for a while in peaceful companionship until Elladan decided that there was still something he needed to say and broke the silence.

"Elrohir," he said seriously, "I know you said that there was nothing I had done that required forgiveness, but I cannot agree. If nothing else, my behavior...what I said...was inexcusable. I said those things, knowing they were false, in order to make you go away. I...I had decided that if I could push you away, then it wouldn't be you leaving me. It was stupid, of course, and mean, certainly. And...I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for being such a complete, total jerk."

Elrohir laughed softly and shook his head as he said, "You were not a complete jerk, Elladan....well, maybe you were, but it is over now." When his brother didn't share in the laughter, Elrohir added soberly, "It is over, Elladan, and all is well. I cannot lie, those words did hurt, but I understand why you said them. So now we should relegate them to the past and lock them away in that chest of stupid things we have said and done to each other over the years."

Elladan twisted his head slightly and glanced over his shoulder at the back of Elrohir's head, then turned back and asked lightly, "Just like that, I am forgiven again? Are you sure? And are you sure you are not bothered that I was not looking for you?"

Elrohir shrugged, "As I started to tell you earlier, I already knew about that. I found out from Ada. He did not say so directly, but what he did not say was clear enough. And like I told him, I understood. And I meant it. I really did. In truth, the knowledge did upset me, but not because I felt you had abandoned me. It upset me because I knew that only an unbearable amount of hurt would take you away from the search and my heart ached to know that you were in such pain. I truly saw nothing that required forgiving. Well, unless...unless it was me, asking your forgiveness for being careless enough to get caught in the first place." He dropped his head as he added quietly, "I am sorry. I never wanted you to suffer because of me."

At that, Elladan rolled his eyes in disbelief and twisted around, almost causing Elrohir to fall backward when his backrest was removed. But Elladan caught his arm and steadied him with one hand as he poked him in the chest with his other, saying vehemently, "I never want to hear that kind of nonsense again, do you understand? What kind of an idiot would apologize for being betrayed by his friends—for being captured and tortured because some other idiots decided to go on a twisted spree of vengeance? You are hurt in my name and you want to apologize to me? Of all the stupid things I have ever heard, this has got to be at the top of the list! You did nothing wrong, you crazy little orc-butt! So don't you dare apologize!"

Elrohir leaned back, his hands held up in surrender as he laughingly said, "Peace, brother! Peace! Please...I have heard that lecture a dozen times already and do not need to hear it again. Very well! I did nothing wrong." He shook off his brother's hand and added indignantly, "You do not have to be so pushy about it," but he spoiled the effect with a grin that he couldn't quite hide.

Elladan let the scowl melt from his face and returned his brother's smile sheepishly. "Agreed," he said, "Perhaps I was a bit over zealous, but I really do not like to hear you blame yourself for any of this." He took a deep breath and, determined to finally say what was in his heart, added, "You have been incredible throughout this whole ordeal, Elrohir—strong and courageous in the face of unthinkable odds, and then wonderfully generous of spirit, forgiving those who hurt you. You amaze me, little brother, and so I cannot bear to hear you put yourself down in any way."

Completely taken off guard and totally embarrassed, Elrohir tried to deflect his brother's praise by scowling and protesting, "Little brother? Little brother? How many times must I remind you that we are twins? Those extra few seconds of yours hardly qualifies you to look on me as little!"

For just a moment, Elladan almost let himself be caught up in the familiar pattern of teasing, but then instead surprised Elrohir by yanking him into another embrace and saying, "Oh Valar, how I have missed you!"

Elrohir could only nod, unable to find his voice. But when Elladan let him go, he was able to say, "Dan, you must stop that. Remember our image," and made a fierce-looking face.

Laughing, Elladan finally relented and let Elrohir draw him away from serious thoughts, the two comfortably bantering back and forth as they made their way to their horses.

The brothers didn't say much else that day as they made camp, both needing time to come to terms with all they had been through and to truly accept that they were back together—whole. They didn't delve again into serious subjects and kept further conversation light and unemotional, but neither one objected when their bed rolls were placed side by side that night and they fell asleep, lightly touching each other's arm as if to ensure that their other half was still nearby.

-------------------

The next morning when they awoke, the sky was dark and cloudy and the wind had a biting chill. The two worked quickly to pack up their belongings, leaving out their cloaks in expectation of rain. It was only when the first drops of rain started to fall and Elladan was pinning the front of his cloak, though, that he remembered Lord Bremon's gift.

"Oh! I cannot believe I'd forgotten," he exclaimed.

At his brother's inquiring look, he reached into his pack and, like a magician, pulled out a small pouch, handing it to Elrohir.

"What is it?" asked the younger twin, puzzled by his brother's suddenly pleased expression.

Elladan didn't answer, though, and instead grabbed the little bag back and unceremoniously dumped it into Elrohir's hand, grinning with pleasure.

The reaction was not what Elladan expected. At first Elrohir looked at the object resting on his palm as if it were a poisonous spider. With a sick sense of dread, he remembered the last time he'd seen his cloak pin. He had been with those horrid dwarves. They had found his pin on his discarded cloak and had been asking him where he'd found it—accusing him of stealing it since it was clearly the work of a master dwarven craftsman. He, of course, hadn't been able to answer them, not even remembering his own name at that point. He tried to explain, but the angry dwarves insisted that he was lying and proceeded to kick him, despite his already grievous wounds, until he fell unconscious. It was his first, hard lesson on the value of silence. Now, the sight of the pin brought back that dreadful feeling of helpless confusion and pain and he shuddered at the memory.

"Ro?" The concerned inquiry penetrated the edge of his thoughts and he looked blankly at his brother's worried face.

Elladan, who had been expecting his brother to rejoice at the return of their father's precious gift, was disturbed. And, he had to admit to himself, disappointed. He had really been looking forward to surprising his brother and now Elrohir looked like he'd just swallowed something very unpleasant.

The younger twin slowly closed his hand over the pin and squeezed it, welcoming the pain from it's sharp edges, for it drew his thoughts away from the past and helped him to return firmly to the present.

"Ro?" his brother asked again.

Elrohir looked solemnly at his brother and then down at his clenched fist. He carefully opened up his hand and then regarded the pin. It looked so innocent lying there in his palm. Even with the sky overcast, its beauty gleamed. Just like the day his father had given it to him and its mate to Elladan. It had meant so much to him in the past...

Abruptly, he tossed it up and caught it again, his mood lightening as he grinned at his brother. The pin had done nothing to him and it was still a reminder of their father's pride in them—no need to let one unfortunate memory ruin its meaning for him. He snagged his cloak and pulled it over his shoulders, firmly restoring the pin to its proper place.

When he was done, he looked up, only to see Elladan still standing before him, fists on his hips, glaring. "Just what was that all about?"

Elrohir debated giving Elladan some flip little excuse for his behavior, but then answered honestly. "For a moment, I was reminded of when I lost it..." he took a deep breath, "and some of the accompanying feelings. But then I thought about when Ada first pinned it on me and decided that was the association I would choose instead."

Elladan had lost his glare, but still looked troubled. "Ro, I know what you were thinking of. I know how you were mistreated by the dwarves."

The younger twin shrugged, "Aye, I told you about that after I made such a fool of myself with Lord Bremon."

But Elladan shook his head. "Nay, I do not speak of what you told me, but rather what Lord Bremon himself related. He tracked down those who found you and learned what they did."

Elrohir stared at his brother in surprise. "He what?! But I made no mention of them—never said what they had done. How did he even know to look for them?"

Elladan grinned, "I have learned that you should never underestimate him, for he has uncanny insight. From what he told me, I understand that he was able to read into what you did not say, and came up with a fair approximation of the truth."

The younger twin thought back furiously to his time with the dwarven lord. He hadn't meant to give anything away and was mortified to think he'd been so easily read. He shook his head in disgust, "He must have thought me a great fool to be so transparent—how he must have laughed at the stupid little elf who could not hide his thoughts. So much for the vaunted 'stoic composure' of our kind!"

It was the perfect opening for Elladan to tease his twin, for in his opinion Elrohir often put far too much emphasis on self control. And in times past, Elrohir most certainly would have been subjected to some of his brother's sharp-witted barbs. But the overall subject of Elrohir's capture and subsequent mistreatment was not something that Elladan would ever be able to consider a target for merriment. Instead, he responded honestly and kindly, "Nay, he liked you very much. It was the reason he requested that you be Adar's envoy. Indeed, he was quite disturbed to think that his people mistreated you. That is why he came home and did some digging to find the truth. And when he heard what had happened, he punished those dwarves and made them give him your brooch. That was another reason he wanted you to visit—so he could return it to you."

When Elrohir still frowned, his brother lightly punched him in the arm. "Stop brooding," he said. "You managed to charm him in spite of yourself. He spoke quite highly of you."

The younger elf finally smiled softly. He had liked the gruff dwarf himself and was quietly pleased to think he'd made a good impression despite their most inauspicious beginning. He fingered the brooch at his neck and with a firm nod said, "Well, in that case I shall have to consider this a double gift, first from Ada and now from Lord Bremon. All the more reason to treasure it."

"Indeed," agreed Elladan with a smile. "And now, I believe we should cease our dawdling, for it looks like the sky will open up any moment.

Elrohir glanced up at the threatening clouds and agreed with a quick nod, seeing that the light rain was about to become a deluge. After the two quickly finished packing up their belongings, however, he mentioned quietly, "You realize, of course, that there is still one pin that needs retrieving?"

His brother finished securing his pack on Isilmë's back and agreed succinctly, "Estel's."

"Aye. I would not have him lose it on my account," Elrohir commented, frowning as he mounted Raumo.

Elladan, too, mounted his horse before responding lightly, "You know he values you far more than any pin, as he has already proven. He never once spoke of mourning its loss."

But Elrohir's frown only deepened. "All the more reason for me to return it to him," he stated with conviction. "When the time is right, I will find a way to recover it."

The two started their horses forward, neither one speaking for a few moments, before Elladan broke the silence with a cautious question. "You would go back to where they held you in order to reclaim the pin? Are you certain you wish to do this?"

Elrohir was certain that he did not want to go back to the place where he'd suffered so much misery, but he felt strongly that he owed his little brother more than he could ever repay and this would be a small start. Thus he answered candidly, "I admit that the thought of seeing that place again makes my blood run cold, but I wish to do this for Estel. However, it would be so much easier if I were not alone—would you consider coming with me? I could even face Borgas with you at my side," he finished with a hopeful glance at his twin.

"You needn't ask," said Elladan warmly. "I would be glad to go with you. And in truth, I am not planning on letting you out of my sight for the next several centuries, so wherever we choose to go, it will be together. Besides, I have nothing else planned at the moment and can think of no better quest than going after Estel's pin."

The younger twin thanked Elladan with a grateful smile and then the two spent the next several hours discussing ways, both serious and humorous, that they could convince their father to let them leave home to go off into the wilds on yet another adventure.

---------

The following two days saw the brothers leisurely making their way home, not exactly taking their time, but not rushing either. They knew that their family would be anxious for their return, but just couldn't find it in them to hurry. They both needed this time to unwind from the terrible stress and trauma that had been plaguing them, and found a renewed joy in the comforting familiarity of simply being together on the trail.

They talked of many things as they worked to accept that their nightmare was truly over, but mostly kept the conversation light with frequent teasing. Thus, when they were less than a few hours from home and Elrohir saw his brother grinning broadly at him, he expected yet another joke at his expense.

"What?" he asked with amused affection, wondering what Elladan would come up with this time.

But Elladan's answer held none of the expected levity. Instead, he shrugged and sounded almost embarrassed as he said, "I am just...happy. Profoundly happy. For a time, I never thought I would be again. It is hard for me to believe that we are almost home and you are here by my side, whole and healthy." He stopped his horse so he could really focus on his twin as he said sincerely, "For whatever reason, we were created to be together—and I was lost without you. And now that you are returned, I feel such joy and contentment that I do not know how to express it."

Elrohir blew out his breath in a puff of air as his brother's words brought unwanted moisture to his eyes. "You express yourself well enough," he said wryly. Then he looked away and blinked rapidly while he tried to subdue the emotions that his brother's words had unleashed. Only marginally successful, he turned back and said, "You know that I have always found it easier than you to convey what is in my heart, but admit that I also do not know how to put into words what I feel. I do not even believe the words exist to describe my thoughts as we near home, once more together. I...I only regret the pain that I caused to get to this point."

There was no mistaking Elladan's anger as, after one shocked second, he exploded in disbelief, "That you caused?! You are not going to start that again are you? I thought I made myself crystal clear last time. What happened to you was not your fault!"

But Elrohir wouldn't be sidetracked and said with determination, "Wait. Please, let me speak. Let me say this. I need to get this out before we are home and find it impossible to speak of serious matters in the midst of everyone's good wishes. I ...I have to tell you that I have seen how much my disappearance...and reappearance without memories...hurt everyone, especially you. And...I cannot help but regret that I didn't listen to you when you warned me of Raumo's strange behavior. I am so sorry."

The older twin looked like he wanted to jump off his horse and knock some sense into his brother—he had just been riding along thinking about how happy he was, and now Elrohir had to bring up all those unsettled feelings again! He had to force himself not to shout as he said in frustration, "In the first place, I thought Raumo merely had a case of indigestion. I had no inkling that there was anything else to worry about." He laughed without humor as he added, "If I had, I assure you I would have never let you ride off and most certainly would not have let you ride off with bitter words between us. But moreover, from what you told me of Polinas, Kalen, and Matias, they would have found some other way to trap you if you'd changed your plans that day."

When Elrohir's expression remained stubborn, Elladan continued impatiently, "How can you possibly feel guilt for what was done to you? If anyone were to regret something, do you not think it should be me? Elrohir, you must know that a hundred times I have replayed standing there in the stables...I was so close to you, but because of my own selfish need to protect my feelings, I did not know you were there. If I had not shut myself off from our bond, I would have found you. I would have found you and stopped your suffering. How about that for a regret?" The anger in his voice disappeared as he added in a low voice, "It will haunt my thoughts."

Elrohir sighed deeply and mentally kicked himself. He had not meant to open up any wounds—he had only wanted to tell Elladan in clear terms that he was sorry his carelessness had caused his brother pain. But his words had apparently struck a nerve and now Elladan would once more beat himself up for not finding him earlier. Thinking back to what he'd told their grandmother, Elrohir decided that he could use the same argument with Elladan to hopefully put to rest any lingering guilt.

"Elladan," he said gravely, "I do understand how you feel. And...and part of me most certainly wishes you had found me earlier. Being trapped in that box was...beyond words. I do not ever wish to experience that again. But you must understand—although it was wretched, I believe the suffering was necessary before my memories could be returned. You recall, I did not remember things right away. And so if you had found me before Kalen's ill treatment prompted the return of my memories, perhaps they would never have come back. It was unpleasant, to say the least, but the end result was worth it."

"But you were right there...so close that I could have practically reached out and touched you," argued the unhappy older twin.

"Aye, but the time was not right," countered Elrohir.

"But I could have saved you," Elladan whispered miserably.

Elrohir prayed for the right words as he cursed himself for reopening this issue. It was his fault that the happy Elladan of a few minutes ago was gone and had been replaced by a guilt-ridden Elladan. It was his fault, so it was his job to make things right. It would not be easy, for it was nearly impossible for his twin to accept that he couldn't always be there to rush in and save his 'little' brother. Thus, Elrohir knew he'd have to do something drastic to break through. With a deep breath he braced himself and asked, "Elladan, what did Ammë say before she left?"

It worked. He certainly got his brother's attention, who could only stare at his twin with his mouth open in surprise. Elladan could count on one hand the times that Elrohir had mentioned their mother since her departure—the younger twin had been deeply scarred by it and never had brought her up himself. He would even turn away if someone else mentioned her, so to have him willingly bring her up now left Elladan speechless.

When Elladan seemed unable to say anything, Elrohir smiled faintly at his brother's expression and answered his own question, "She told us to have no regrets for failing to find her earlier. That 'regrets for the past are thieves of joy in the present.' So heed her final lesson to us and put away your regrets. Let us be happy instead that all has ended well."

As he shook off his shock and remembered his mother's words, Elladan was pleased to find that he did feel a bit of the guilt lessening. It didn't entirely go away...and he secretly admitted to himself that it may never completely vanish...but he was willing to agree that brooding over the past was not going to make them any happier in the present. He also appreciated the effort it must have taken for Elrohir to mention their mother—and besides, he thought with a secret grin, Elrohir had just given him a thought ......

"Very well, Elrohir," he said solemnly, "I will make every effort to set aside my regrets...but you must as well." His eyes narrowed as he continued forcefully, "Your regrets are as much 'thieves of joy' as mine. So one more word from you about how sorry you are to have caused me grief, and I promise you that I will give you far more to regret! Understood?"

For a moment Elrohir glared at his brother. Painfully stubborn at times, he hated being forced to eat his own words and immediately had a biting response ready. But then he caught himself and remembered what he'd been trying to do—to break Elladan away from that needless guilt. It appeared that he'd succeeded, so after a quick struggle with himself, he admitted that he had been fairly trapped and said with a reluctant smile, "I understand, and even agree...to a point. It serves no purpose for either of us to be consumed with regrets. So...I promise I will no longer torment you with unwanted apologies."

Elladan viewed his brother through suspicious eyes. Elrohir hadn't said he would stop feeling bad about getting caught—he only agreed to stop apologizing for it. Elladan debated quickly about calling Elrohir on it, but then decided that this was the best he'd get out of his brother for now, so he nodded with a resigned smile and the two continued on their way.

----------------

As they rode the final leg of their journey, the brothers didn't speak again. They had already expressed their deepest feelings and further words between the two seemed unnecessary. The feeling of anticipation was almost tangible as they got nearer to their valley and they knew they were thinking the same thing—how good it would be to finally be home and how glad they were that they would be there together. Thus, when they crested the edge of the hill and looked down onto their home, they glanced at each other quietly and still said nothing. The comfort and serenity of the elven realm beckoned them and they stopped for a moment as they viewed the valley in happy expectation.

Elladan smiled in pleasure as they sat, watching the valley below. He was thinking of the happy reunion awaiting them, when he felt his brother's eyes on him. He turned, only to see Elrohir grinning at him with a wicked gleam in his eyes. "Race you!" was all he heard before his brother, without further warning, spurred his horse on and took off at a mad pace.

With an oath, Elladan charged after and the two elves flew down the mountainside. The steep, winding path would have been treacherous to less-skilled riders or ones unfamiliar with the trail, but the two had come this way countless times and didn't hesitate to tear down it at full speed. Elrohir maintained the lead the entire way, both because of his head start but also because Elladan held back, reveling in the chance to see his brother riding like he had since a child—where he and the horse became as one being. He had missed seeing the joy it brought to his brother, and deliberately stayed back so he could watch.

Indeed, once they finally stopped at the valley floor, Elrohir was beaming, his face lit up with sheer delight after the exciting ride. Elladan grinned back, his smile growing when Elrohir taunted cheerily, "You are slow, brother! We must have beaten you by five lengths!"

"Well, if one of us had started fairly, it might have been a more even contest!" he shot back, mostly because it was expected.

Elrohir nudged his horse closer and then patted Isilmë's head, saying comfortingly, "Do not worry, brave one, I recognize a weak excuse when I hear it, but know it was a poor rider that held you back."

Isilmë nodded his head and snorted, causing Elladan to huff in mock irritation, "Do not try to cause trouble with my horse, little brother. If you hadn't cheated we would have beaten you!"

Elrohir only laughed and said, "You could have tried."

At which point Elladan gave up and joined his brother's laughter. He was just so happy! He would cheerfully lose every race just to see that look of elation on Elrohir's face. He had missed it!

Laughing, the two brothers started down the path again and it was only a short time later that they reached the outskirts of the settled areas and the first of Rivendell's inhabitants saw them. It was a pair of elves pruning branches in one of the many orchards that dotted the valley. The elves dropped from the trees and ran forward to greet the twins before taking their leave and rushing away to tell their friends the news. After that, the excitement was palpable as one-by-one, more elves of Rivendell caught sight of their young lords riding past. Tall, strong, and proud, the two practically glowed with joy at being back home together and their joy was catching as it spread to all who saw them.

At first the two continued on alone, but as they rode, first one, then two, and soon dozens of elves began to run along side them. The twins called out cheery greetings to their friends and neighbors who continued to surround them—and then there were especially exuberant exchanges when the Imladris Guard caught up with them and their fellow warriors started shouting good natured, affectionate insults to their returning lords.

This impromptu gathering only continued to grow, so by the time Elladan and Elrohir finally rode up to their house, they were encircled by at least a thousand cheering, excited elves.

The noise of this crowd penetrated the inner chambers where Elrond had been working with his advisors. He had sensed no threat to his valley, so he was caught unaware when he heard a great din outside and asked Erestor to go see what it was all about. When his old friend came back with a mysterious smile and would only say that he should go see himself, the elven lord got up with some muttered comments on ill-mannered advisors and walked outside to find out what was happening.

The twins had at last dismounted, but quickly realized that they had made a mistake, for they were soon separated by the multitude of elves who wanted to either pound them on the back in greeting or smother them in great hugs. From time to time they were able to catch sight of each other and saw the same amused resignation in their eyes as they were swept from one well-wisher to another, grateful for their people's loving attention, but also wondering just how they were going to manage to get away and properly greet their father.

Thus, when Elrond finally did arrive, no one even noticed him. All eyes were on his sons, who were being passed from one person to the next as everyone waited to extend their own welcome home. Instead, the elven lord stood quietly, watching first one and then the other of his sons as they slowly made their way through the crowd. He did not smile, but his great joy would be clear to anyone who knew him, his eyes giving away the thankful contentment he felt in the safe return of the twins.

The Lord of Rivendell stood alone for a while, but eventually sensed others coming up behind him and was aware that the rest of his family had joined him. He knew that they each would have time with Elladan and Elrohir later, and so instead of fretting that he had to wait his own turn, he chose instead to enjoy watching the twins as they soaked in the love of their people. As he stood there, his face gradually relaxed into a loving smile as he felt that final, lingering bit of fear melt away into nothingness—this moment was all that he'd been hoping for and he said several silent prayers of thanks as he realized that their terrible ordeal was finally over. With a heart full of gladness and love, he looked at his laughing, happy, healthy sons and whispered, "Welcome home, boys."

THE END

A/N: Okay, I've got to explain this absurdly long chapter up front. It wasn't in the plans to make it so excessively long or take so long to post it, but work has taken me out of the country and I have infrequent access to the Internet (I can read e-mails, but posting is extremely difficult). Thus, I have had lots of extra time just sitting around staring at my laptop and I filled the time by writing and writing...and writing. Many extra scenes as well as greatly expanded scenes are the result. Sorry if it seems to just go on and on. I could have broken it up into different chapters, but at this point figured I might as well just get the end posted. At any rate, I can't believe it has taken me this long to finish the story—over a year from when I started. Nothing like making your first story a novel, huh? It's been an absolutely great experience that I've really enjoyed, especially hearing from reviewers (you really do make this whole thing worthwhile, you know!) Like I've mentioned to some of you in the past, I've got a couple of ideas floating around in my head for other stories, but until I return home in the spring, I'm going to have to bid you all a fond adieu. It is too hard to know when I'd be able to post and don't want to leave you all hanging again so long, so I'll try to work on the stories while I'm here and will be able to post when I return. I will be checking e-mail, however, so if any of you feel like saying 'hi,' I'd love to hear from you. Well, thanks so much to all of you that reviewed...and I hope everyone enjoys this last chapter and that it didn't ramble on too much. Later, my friends! FirstMate

Chloe Amethyst: Chloe, my dear! Hope you got that seatbelt installed—no injuries allowed on my account! Well, I most certainly can't be praised for "economy of words" in this latest chapter. It did tend to go on and on despite an occasional ruthlessness when it came to editing out extra scenes (believe it or not, I chopped many additional pages!) I'm glad you like Elrohir's comment when he indicated who he was. Several other reviewers mentioned it as well—it's funny how some lines stand out and I'm always fascinated to find out what grabs a reader. Sometimes it's a line I especially liked myself (like this one) and sometimes my favorite lines are completely ignored. Anyway, Kalen and Matias have finally been taken care of. It was a relief for me to write that last line when I said that they were out of Elrohir's life. They were tricky characters to write and I was never quite sure that I got them right—it was very hard to get into their heads and so I was glad to send them on their way. Well, Elladan wasn't being held by Robard after all—the greedy man was just trying to make an extra buck from his earlier encounter...stupid human! The twin reunion was one of the last scenes I wrote. It went through many variations before it finally took the shape you see here, but I finally liked it best when I made them angry—made the eventual resolution more powerful. Sorry I didn't post before now. The muses were working overtime to be helpful, but life simply didn't cooperate. Sigh. I hope you like this last chapter...I've really enjoyed hearing from you!

DeepBlueSomething: Yeah, I haven't really been that nice to Elrohir throughout this whole story, but I hopefully left him in a good place at the end. He's happy for now! And you were right about Elladan having some major issues...you definitely pegged it when you said that he would be feeling guilty about giving up on Elrohir—were you peeking at my notes? ;) Well, I hoped you liked the sentencing, although in truth I don't like the scene with Kalen and Matias much myself—it was actually the hardest part for me to write. I couldn't think of a suitable punishment for what they had done that was...well, satisfying. I did my best, but actually think that they all got off rather lightly considering what they'd done. Oh well. Elrohir's interaction with Robard was MUCH more fun to write. I liked seeing him be tough and the little worm getting scared! I do have at least two more stories that I've started to outline (the backstory as to why Elrohir hates caves and a sequel when the twins are reunited with Estel). Like I said above, these will have to wait until I'm home, but I can be working on them in the meantime. Well, thank you so much for de-lurking and sending me your lovely reviews...I've enjoyed them very much!

dragonfly: Well, didn't quite manage to get it posted 'soon,' but better late than never, huh?

dstrbd child: Glad you liked Elrohir's recovery...it's complete now that he's home again with his twin. Both of them definitely deserve a break for now...good thing my story is done and I can't do anything else to the two of them!

Ellie: It's so nice when readers pick up on things that I especially like myself—I like Elrohir's smile too. I think it's a reflection of what a nice guy he really is. Yes, I think a guy can be strong and nice at the same time! (Hopefully he showed that he can be tough when he dealt with Robard). Anyway, Elladan made it home just fine and everyone should be happy now (until some other writer gets a hold of them!) Anyway, thanks for the review!

Erestor: Oh my, you say reviewing my chapters is intimidating? Well, writing a reviewer response to you can seem downright daunting since I do try to respond to most of a reviewer's remarks. Whew! Anyway, here it goes...I'm so glad you like my Elladan. As I wrote the story, his character became a lot more clear in my mind and I came to like him quite a lot myself. His personality is very different from Elrohir's, but likeable in his own way. I really do agree that Elrohir can be a bit too nice at times, though. I think that he was way too forgiving with Kalen and Matias, but...weird as it sounds, I found myself writing him as forgiving them even though I wanted a stiffer form of retribution. It's funny when you've developed a character to the point that he can take the story in a certain direction even when you want it to go somewhere else. Oh well. Anyway, it was a lot more satisfying when he was dealing with Robard. Now that was a fun scene to write! And Robard did end up with that punch in the face, even though it was Elrohir rather than Belder who did it. The scene in the last chapter where Elrohir walked in was fun to write, too. It was interesting to try to write about him without saying his name and completely giving away the surprise. Of course, I didn't keep you all in suspense very long, but I enjoy trying not to be too predictable every once in awhile. Anyway, you were right about the rest of the chapter being harder to write. I wasn't totally happy with the journey Kalen took from mean, messed up elf to repentant elf, but after reworking it several times, ended up with what you saw. I explained his actions a bit more in this chapter (a descent into a form of madness), but I still think he was awfully cruel for an elf. I actually didn't have any problem with him being mean to Elrohir, despite liking him—his hatred of Elladan was powerful enough that he could justify his actions to himself, at least at first. Oh well, I still hope it was remotely believable. I suppose I could have made the 'bad guys' be orcs, like I'd originally planned when I was outlining the story eons ago, but thought that this way was a bit more interesting. Let's see...what next. Glad I could clear up the 'horse mystery.' I make little mental notes about open questions and try to make sure to clear things up when I can. I did that a lot in this chapter, of course, since it's the last one. Several of the scenes were written just so I didn't leave a reader going, 'Huh? What about....?" Well anyway, as always I am SO appreciative of your long reviews—they are so much fun to read. Thanks my friend! P.S. Just got your additional message (I'd written the above response awhile back)...thanks so much for the concern! I am well, but just don't have easy access to the Internet. I'm hoping I can post within the next week or so. I guess you'll know if I'm successful in doing so!

fael bain: Fifty-six chapters? Two and a half years? Good grief! And I thought mine was long with its fifteen chapters and fourteen months. Wow! I don't know how you find the energy to keep your story going. I'm glad I've been able to keep your interest, despite the lack of a certain blond-haired elf, but if it makes you feel any better, the next story I'm going to work on (Elrohir's aversion to caves) has Legolas in it. Well, thanks for hanging in there with me and for your reviews!

Flashgriffin: Sorry this chapter took even longer to post than the last one, but at least it has a lot in it, right? The muses were well-behaved this go around, but RL interfered. Darn that real life, anyway. Well, I didn't forget about Elladan—he was a big part of this last chapter, both his time with the dwarves and also his reunion with Elrohir. Hope you enjoyed it.

Iawen Londea: Hello, my friend...so great to hear from you! Uhm, uh...well, you had to wait even longer for this chapter than the last one. Sorry. Sometimes even my best plans go awry. I wanted to get it posted before the one-year anniversary of when I started the story, but just couldn't make that happen. Oh well. Glad you enjoyed Elrond and Elrohir's interaction—I had fun with that scene. I like slipping in a touch of humor and good feelings along with the angst to lighten the mood. And I actually agree with you Elrohir shouldn't have been quite so forgiving. I can't imagine that I would have been. But he is the way he is in my mind and I couldn't make him act a different way. I am sure if it had been Elladan or someone else who had been hurt, though, he wouldn't have been nearly as nice about it. Nope, it wasn't Elladan that needed rescuing, at least not in the physical sense. I guess you could say that he needed to be rescued from the despair that consumed him. He's all better now, though...all's well that ends well, right? Well, thank you so much for all your reviews and your encouragement—they've honestly meant quite a lot to me!

Kaeera: Ahem...well, it's taking me even longer to post this last chapter. Sigh. I wonder if your last chapter has been posted? I haven't really able to go to Internet sites other than e-mail, so I haven't been able to look for it. I will be SO anxious to catch up on all my favorite stories when I finally get home! Can one go into withdrawal from being cut off from fan fiction? Hmmm... Anyway, I have to agree that I wouldn't have been as forgiving as Elrohir—he definitely has a more noble spirit than me!

LalaithoftheBruninen: Hi Lalaith! You've been with me from the beginning, and so I REALLY appreciate you hanging in there and continuing to review and send all those hugs and bunnies! So, uhm, do I take it that you want a sequel? One with Estel? Okay, I guess you were a little obvious. ;) I'll see what I can do about it. Can't promise one soon (can't promise to post anything until the spring, unfortunately), but I've got a couple of things bouncing around in my head that may make it into a story at some point. Well, my dear, congratulations on that new job...hope it's going well for you! Take care!

Lirenel: Yep, that's all there is...the story is finally done! Anyway, thank you so much for adding a review to this site. It's been so much fun to see the numbers creep up and I treasure each one. Hope you enjoyed the ending!

Lydia2: Hi and thanks for the nice words! Glad you liked that last chapter and hope you enjoyed Elladan's return and the fate of the obnoxious Robard!

Mystic Girl1: Hey there, Mystic, good to hear from you again. I'm pleased that the last chapter touched you and you enjoyed the reunion between Elrohir and his father. Here's the last, final reunion—this time between the twins. Well, I guess that I'm still missing Estel's reunion, but that won't happen unless I do a sequel, for this was the last chapter! Finally! I didn't like Kalen and Matias much in that last chapter either—they acted very unelf-like in my opinion—but I think they fell back into character in this chapter. I hope you got some sleep...I definitely don't like pulling all-nighters myself anymore. Well, take care and thanks for that review!

Mystkyten: Well, gee...thanks! I'm so thankful when new readers are pointed in my direction and I'm glad you found the story and enjoyed it! Sorry...no reunion between the twins and Aragorn in this story. I have a couple of ideas for a sequel brewing that would bring the three back together, but haven't finished working it out in my mind yet, so it may be awhile before I get it done (well, and the fact that I don't have easy Internet access will delay it as well!) Yes, Robard was simply trying to make some extra money out of his earlier encounter with Elrohir...it sure blew up in his face! Elrohir probably wouldn't have done anything to him if he'd just stayed away, so his greed was his own undoing. Again, I'm so glad you found my story and thanks for sending me your encouraging words!

nerwen: Oh, I'd never kill off Elrohir...I don't believe in killing off Tolkien's major characters (or even minor ones, really...I'd only mess around with ones I created myself). Anyway, here's that story between Elladan and the dwarves that you asked about. Wasn't a whole lot of action in it, but it filled in a bit more of the unanswered issues (and I wanted to get Elrohir's pin back for him). Sorry to not have the Elrohir/Estel reunion in this story...I sent Estel away several chapters ago and never intended to have him return in this story. Like I've mentioned to a few other reviewers, I've got a sequel in mind that I may write that will reunite all the brothers. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this final chapter and thanks for being a reviewer!

Newmoon: (Laughs)...yeah, I remember your first review! I rewrote that first chapter, you know, based on your input. That cleaned-up version is posted on Stories of Arda if you haven't seen it. Well, if you like emotional reunions, I hope you liked the one between the twins. I spent a lot of time reworking it until I liked it, scrapping whole pages of stuff as it changed direction. (One good thing about having extra time to write this chapter, I guess). Thanks so much for your continuing inputs as I progressed through this story...it's always been great hearing from you!

Nimrodel Lorellin: Your favorite? Awesome! It makes me so happy to think people like this story and to hear that it's someone's favorite is even nicer. Thanks! Sorry I took so long to update...I really don't like to keep people waiting so long, but it couldn't be helped. Hope you enjoyed the twin's reunion and the end of the story!

Orodruin: Yes, a chapter with a happy ending followed by another chapter with a happy ending...gee, what's wrong with me?! :) I know what you mean about real life interfering with what we want to do...absolutely I understand! Hope you liked the twin's reunion...the whole story was written with the goal of reuniting them, so I'm really anxious to find out what people think of this final chapter! Thanks for the review!

random person: Okay, okay!! :) I promise that I would NEVER drop a story in the middle of it and leave people hanging. It may have taken forever for me to finish it, but it is finally done.

Roguish Smile: Well, it's finished now. Yeah...finally! It's been so much fun to write and to hear from readers, but it is nice to actually have it finished, too. (I am the kind that likes to finish my projects and then move on to a new one). Hope you enjoyed the 'grand finale' and thanks for reviewing!

Sakurasun: Okay...(takes deep breath)...you left me two long, wonderful reviews, so this may take me a while to get through it all. Well, here it goes. In the first place, I am never annoyed by reviewers "prattling." I thoroughly enjoy hearing what you have to say, so feel free to write as much as you like! Reviews are the only 'rewards' (other than the internal reward of simply writing) that we get, so rest assured that your words are treasured. I had to laugh about your comment on how your writing reflects reading too many 'old world' stories. I completely understand. Especially after I've been writing, I really do find myself thinking in a different, more formal sentence structure. Yeah, Tolkien didn't say much about the twins, but in a way that is good—it leaves them more open to interpretation and I know that I have really enjoyed trying to shape their characters and watch them come to life throughout the story. You really commented out loud on Ro's reunion with his dad? Too funny! I confess that that was a favorite scene of mine, too. I also like the scene in this chapter when the twins are finally reunited. (Can authors mention things like that...is it okay to say we like something we wrote, or does it sound like self-congratulation? I hope not—I just really like the warm, emotional scenes.) Anyway, I'm glad you like the pace of the story. I kind of worry that it has dragged on so long, but I agree that what happened to Elrohir couldn't be resolved with a short, "and they all lived happily ever after." It just wouldn't work like that. So you could forgive Kalen and Matias, too? Good for you...shows a very nice character. I'm afraid I was still rather mad at them and felt that Elrohir was a little too forgiving, but I couldn't write him doing anything other than what he did. It's just the way he developed in my thoughts. At any rate, I didn't hate K&M either and did feel sorry for them, but I think that they got off pretty easy all in all. No, the dwarves weren't the slave traders, they were the ones who sold Elrohir to the slave traders (Robard and company). Still not very nice, though, especially since they came across Elrohir when he was very hurt and they were quite mean to him. I'm confident that Lord Bremon punished them suitably, though. Nope, no more Aragorn in this story. He got gypped, I admit. He found Elrohir, put up with him during his most frustrating months, and then he had to leave before Elrohir got his memories back. Oh well...I couldn't fit everything into this story so I'll have to leave a reunion with him for a possible sequel. I'm so glad you commented on the title of the story. Yes, I do realize that it might not pull in a lot of readers since it's so short, but it summed up so much about the story that I couldn't think of naming it anything else. Elrohir was the most obviously "lost" one of course, but in fact, everyone who cared about him was lost in some way as well. Well anyway, I'm grateful to whatever other author pointed you in my direction and I'm glad you took a chance on my story in spite of its title. Thanks for the lovely, long review, Sakky—I'm so grateful for your encouraging words!

San: Nah, I wouldn't quit! I might take FOREVER to post, but wouldn't leave everyone hanging forever. Glad you stuck it out and found the updates...hopefully you haven't given up on me this time and will find this one as well.

Sharon: Thank you for those nice words—I'm really glad you like the way it's all coming together! I've had several other folks say that they wish Aragorn hadn't disappeared from the story, but if its any consolation, I'm going to try to write a sequel someday that shows the twins tracking him down and their reunion. Don't know when I'll get around to it, but I've got some ideas floating around in my head. Well, this was the final 'happy ending' and I hope you liked it—I promise, any story I ever write will have a happy ending. Thanks so much for sending me your encouragement!

silvertoekee: You know, not too many people mentioned Elrohir being stuck in that box, but I thought it was a particularly awful thing to happen to him, too. Trapped, uncomfortable, not enough air, no light, not sure who he was or why he was there...it was a terrible experience for him. I didn't have him dwell much on it in this chapter, since he was trying to move on past everything that had happened, but I wonder how he'd react the next time he went to the stables or was caught in a small, confined spot. Hmmm...maybe something to explore if I ever get around to that sequel. Anyway, thanks for reviewing...hope you like this wrap-up chapter.