Nine Lives

Elladan sat down carefully on the bench, propping the stick beside him. He waited until Elrohir joined him, then sighed. "You do not need to hover so attentively," he groused. "I am not likely to go anywhere in a hurry, am I? Not like this." He indicated his sprained ankle morosely.

He had lost count of the minor injuries he had accumulated while training, fighting, riding – and in foolish escapades as an elfling. But this – this was simply humiliating. During an all-night festival to greet the dawn on mid-summer's day, he and the elleth he was dancing with had collided with another couple during a particularly frenetic dance. Falling awkwardly, his ankle had twisted beneath him, and for him, the festivities came to an abrupt end. He had absolutely not been in the slightest bit inebriated. Elrohir, trying totally unsuccessfully to hide his mirth, had escorted him to the healing wing. His twin's solicitous attitude now was borne of guilt at his earlier lack of sympathy.

"Precisely," Elrohir explained. "You cannot move easily, so I am here to obey your commands, my brother." He grinned. "Father also asked me to make sure you kept out of trouble," he added.

Elladan merely grunted. It was Elrohir who had had more than his fair share of hair-raising – and death-defying – injuries. Now that the tables were turned, no-one had any intention of allowing him to forget it.

"Someone is looking for you," he said instead, changing the subject. He pointed with his stick at several elflings hovering near the edge of the garden.

"Lord El! Lord El!" one called. "Come and see! We want to show you something!"

"Why me?" Elrohir asked. "Lord El means both of us. Either of us. Whatever. Why not you?"

Elladan scowled. "Because I cannot go anywhere in a hurry. Because I have to stay out of trouble. Just go and see what they want!" He watched as Elrohir crossed the lawn to where the elflings waited excitedly. They tugged at his arm, and Elrohir bent to listen as one whispered in his ear.

Then Elrohir straightened, and turned to look back with a smile. "I will be back soon," he called. "Stay there!" With the elflings pulling him along, Elrohir vanished into the trees.

When he did not return, Elladan began to grow impatient. He stood, leaning on his walking stick – one which Elrohir had carved, many, many years ago – and crossed to where Elrohir had disappeared. There was still no sign of him. Elladan briefly contemplated returning to the house alone, but several of the paths were steep and narrow. He returned to the bench to wait.

"Elladan! There you are! Mother wondered if you needed anything," Arwen called. She joined him on the bench. "How is your ankle?" she enquired.

"My ankle is fine. Have you seen any sign of your brother recently?" Elladan asked a little sourly.

"My brother? Have you disowned him?" Arwen asked with a smile. "Where is he? I thought you had come down here together."

Elladan nodded curtly. "We had. Elrohir was dragged off by a gang of elflings some time ago. He promised to be back soon. That was the last time I saw him."

"I will look for him for you. Which way did they go?" Arwen asked him.

"That way. Towards the stables."

"Then I will bring him back." Arwen promised. She left along the same track that Elrohir and the elflings had used.

Before long, it was clear that Arwen too had disappeared. Elladan sat restlessly for a while, then made up his mind. He would find his brother – and his sister – and berate them for their thoughtlessness. He made his way slowly through the trees towards the long building that housed the stables. It had always been one of Elrohir's favourite places, and Elladan knew he should not have been surprised that his twin had become distracted.

The first thing he saw was the top of Arwen's head in a stall empty of any horse. Soft whispers came from there, and the low murmur of Elrohir's voice. Peering over the partition, Elladan saw what it was that had so excited the young ones – and the not-so-young.

One of the stable cats lay in a nest of old sacks, contentedly nursing eight new-born kittens. Elrohir sat cross-legged by her, Arwen at his side, while the elflings encircled them.

As he stroked the mother cat very gently, Elrohir looked up with a smile. "They came to tell me kittens were being born," he explained very quietly. "When I got here, she was having some difficulty, and needed some help. I am sorry I abandoned you."

"It does not matter," Elladan replied equally softly. "Are they all right?"

"Mother and babies are doing well," Arwen whispered. "We can leave them now. Out, all of you!" She shooed the elflings out of the stall.

"You can come back to see them tomorrow – but do not disturb the mother!" Elrohir told them firmly. "If she is frightened, she may leave her kittens. You would not want that to happen."

The elflings nodded. "We promise, Lord El," the oldest vowed. "And thank you!" They scampered out of the stable, voices raised in excited shouts as soon as they were outside.

Elladan picked a piece of straw out of Arwen's hair, and pointed to a dark, unmentionable stain on Elrohir's trousers. "You both need to wash before supper. It is not me that needed to stay out of trouble, I think!"

The three left the nine new lives – or rather, eight new and one starting a new phase – behind in the stable, and walked slowly back to the house together.

The End