Beta: Radbooks, Chris, and NiRi

Disclaimers: I don't own any of Tolkien's characters, settings, or plots. I just like to play in his sandbox. I also make no money off of any of this.

Chapter 15

The rest of their journey proved uneventful, and it was with great relief that they beheld the gates leading into the palace of King Thranduil. The elves standing guard at the gate called out that their guests had arrived as the great gates swung ponderously inward. Elrond and Celebrían rode through the gates side by side, followed by their children, then Glorfindel and the rest of the guards.

Elrohir grinned at his brother as he saw who was waiting to escort them into the palace. Legolas stood in the courtyard and smiled at the twins as they came into sight. As etiquette demanded, he first greeted Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían, and they returned the traditional greeting. Legolas went through the ritual greetings with Arwen and her brothers, then Lord Glorfindel as the captain of the guards. Once protocol allowed it, Legolas approached Elladan and Elrohir as their party was dismounting from their horses.

"It is good to see you both again," Legolas exclaimed, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. The brothers easily returned his enthusiastic greeting, draping an arm across his shoulders and pulling him into a quick embrace before stepping back.

"It is our pleasure to be here," Elrohir remarked, smiling. "And unscathed, no less."

Legolas laughed softly, knowing how often one or the other of the twins returned from their travels injured in some way. It was not that they were careless, merely more reckless with their safety than their parents would wish…especially in battle. "So, you encountered no trouble on your journey?"

"Only one small skirmish," Elladan answered before Elrohir could. "None were injured."

"I am thankful for that," Legolas responded. Glancing around, he saw that Elrond and Celebrían were ready to enter the palace. With a nod to his friends, he moved over to take his place as escort, leading the Lord and Lady of Imladris inside, followed by their children, to meet the King and Queen of Taur-e-Ndaedelos.

Once they reached the room where the royal family received visitors, Legolas nodded to the party from Imladris before crossing the room to stand in front of his family. With a bow to his father, Legolas announced their visitors. When he finished, he moved to stand beside his siblings, relaxing slightly as his formal duties were complete.

Thranduil rose and stepped down from the dais on which his throne stood, bringing himself to an equal level with Elrond, Queen Laeriel joining him to stand at his side. "Elrond, my old friend, it is good to see you again." With a twinkle in his eye, he turned to face Celebrían. "And you grow lovelier every time I see you, Lady Celebrían. I am pleased that you were both able to join us for this time of celebration." He glanced aside at the twins and Arwen. "I am also pleased that all three of your children could come as well." His tone of voice was rather dry as he spoke the last sentence, and Elrond chuckled, knowing some of the tales of the twins' previous visits to the Mirkwood palace.

"It is our honor to be here," Elrond replied smoothly, ignoring the inference. "It is a special honor indeed to meet your daughter on such an auspicious occasion."

Thranduil gestured for his children to join them, and gazed fondly at his youngest child as they approached. "Silaglar, Legolas, you are already well acquainted with our guests. Minuial, this is the Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían and their children, the Lords Elladan and Elrohir and the Lady Arwen." He placed his hand on her shoulder and looked at Elrond again. "And this is my daughter, Minuial."

She bowed her head toward him, giving the proper respect due the ruler of an elven realm. "It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord."

Elrond returned the formal greeting, then studied her as she greeted the rest of his family. Her coloring was similar to Legolas, with the golden hair and blue eyes of their father. Silaglar was the only one of the three to have their mother's darker hair and green eyes. Elrond could not help noticing the glint of interest and curiosity in her eyes as she turned to greet Elladan and Elrohir. Either she had heard tales of them from her siblings, or she was simply curious about meeting twins, a rarity among elves.

Once all of the proper greetings were finished and Minuial had met all of the visitors from Imladris, Thranduil turned to his children. "Legolas, Minuial, would you please show our guests to their rooms while we take council with Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían?"

Legolas bowed his head to his father and turned to the twins and Arwen, sweeping his arm out toward the doorway. "If you would care to come with us?"

Elladan glanced aside as he heard his father murmur something too soft for him to make out, but the comment was swiftly followed by laughter from Thranduil, and tolerant looks from their wives. An amused look flitted across Elladan's face as he turned to the doorway. He always enjoyed seeing the more relaxed side of his father and the woodland king that so few were allowed to see.

Minuial fell into step beside Arwen as they exited the room, looking back to see her eldest brother leaving by another door. "Why did Adar not ask Silaglar to join us?" she asked Legolas. Her expression was rather too innocent, hinting that perhaps she knew the story behind her brother's enmity for the twins.

With a chuckle, it was Elrohir who answered, willing to go along with her question. "For some reason, your brother is none too fond of Elladan and me." He held the door open until they had all passed through, then let it swing silently closed.

"You know perfectly well why he would rather not spend time in your company, Elrohir. As do you," Legolas answered with a laugh and a sidelong glance at his sister, walking beside Elrohir. The twins had visited enough times that they did not need anyone to lead them to the guest rooms they occupied when they were in the realm.

"He cannot still be carrying a grudge over that incident, surely," Elladan grumbled. "It was seventeen centuries ago. Your brother is merely a…" a grunt escaped him as Elrohir fell back a step and elbowed him. "Was that necessary?" he asked with a glare at his brother.

Elrohir shot a glance at Arwen and Minuial, smoothly changing the subject and ignoring his brother's pique. Having only met Minuial, he felt it was hardly polite to begin making disparaging comments about one of her brothers. "You will have to visit Lothlórien some day, Legolas. We were there only a few months ago, visiting our grandparents. It is as beautiful as ever."

"Though I wonder if the two of you will be welcome there again," Arwen put in with a wry smile.

"Why? What did you do?" Legolas asked with a grin, sensing a story. He looked back and forth between Elladan and Elrohir waiting for an answer.

"It was nothing," Elladan said, waving a hand in dismissal. "When we were attempting to be on our best behavior, Haldir began complaining that we did not seem ourselves. Haldir is the march warden of Lothlórien," he explained to Minuial. He shrugged slightly. "So, we found a way to ease his mind on the subject."

"It was all Elladan's idea," Elrohir said, pointing to his brother.

"You did not take much convincing," Elladan retorted, crossing his arms over his chest.

"So what did you do to him?" Legolas asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

When it looked as if neither would make a full confession, Arwen spoke up for them. "They painted designs on Haldir's face with a dye that takes several days to fade."

"How did you manage to get him to hold still for such a thing?" Minuial asked in genuine confusion and curiosity.

"We slipped a sedative into his drink," Elrohir said with a shrug.

"You put him to sleep?" she asked, not sure whether to be amused or horrified.

"They have been well trained in the arts of healing and herblore by their father," Legolas explained. "Most times, they use that knowledge for good. However, there are other times…" The smirk on his face made it clear how else they used their knowledge.

"Which you have taken advantage of on more than one occasion," Elladan put in, not allowing Legolas to pretend to be innocent of the pranks that they were famous for.

Minuial glanced back and forth between the twins and her older brother, a bemused look on her face. Arwen leaned in and took her arm. "You will grow used to this, the more you see them together."

Laughing, Minuial looked over at Legolas. "I am used to seeing my brother in such playful moods, but there are few others who will indulge his moods beyond myself."

"Ah, so you will join in his fun?" Elrohir asked with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.

Legolas gave him a mock glare. "My sister is not to be pulled into your foolishness," he warned.

"Should she not make such a decision for herself?" Elladan asked with a sly glance at the younger elleth. The thought flickered through his mind that perhaps they had found a willing partner to help them in their on-going playful war with Legolas.

"Elladan," Arwen chided her brother. "Do not pull her into your games." She turned to Minuial. "I've found that it is best not to take part in their little war. And it is truly much more amusing to stand on the sidelines and watch."

"It seems we have reached your rooms," Legolas said hastily, trying to turn the conversation away from possible involvement of his sister in the pranks of the twins. He was almost afraid that they would be able to recruit her help against him, and did not want that idea being put in her head.

Giving him a grin that said he knew what Legolas was thinking, Elladan inclined his head in a faintly mocking manner. "So we have." He turned toward Arwen and Minuial. "It seems our dear friend Legolas is trying to be rid of us, so I will see you both shortly." Glancing back to Legolas, Elladan continued. "I assume we will dine at the usual time?"

"Yes, and it will be a formal affair this eve, so please be properly attired," Legolas said, affecting a regal air, then spoiling the effect with a mischievous grin. He knew that while the twins were accustomed to wearing their formal robes in Imladris for many occasions, they preferred to wear more simple clothing, as they did when traveling.

Elladan rolled his eyes at his friend, then turned and opened the door to the room he shared with Elrohir, disappearing inside. Elrohir nodded his head toward Legolas, Arwen and Minuial. "I will see you all at dinner." When they returned the sentiment, he turned and followed his brother inside.

Upon entering the room, he saw that Elladan had already made himself comfortable on his usual bed, the one closest to the door. Resting on one elbow, Elladan nodded toward the door as Elrohir closed it behind him. "So, any ideas on what we might do to Legolas this time?"

Elrohir plopped onto his back on the other bed and stared at the ceiling in thought for a moment before replying. "I suggest we do nothing."

"Nothing?" Elladan sat up on the bed and stared across the room at his brother in confusion. "How does that pay him back for the soap?"

Stretching, Elrohir brought his hands behind his head and rested against them. "It certainly seemed to bother Haldir, didn't it?"

Elladan just looked at his brother as if he had lost his mind. "Haldir was bothered more by the fact that we were acting in an unusual manner. I would hardly suggest we revert back to that behavior. It took enough effort to convince our parents that they do not need to worry over us. It would be counterproductive to return to that state."

Elrohir laughed lightly. "That is not what I was suggesting. We can remain our normal cheerful selves, and Legolas will be waiting for us to do something to him. He is expecting something to happen, and when it doesn't, he will continue to wait, sure that around every bend will be a trap to be sprung."

A wicked grin spread across Elladan's face. "He will spend our entire visit here in suspense, waiting for a prank that never happens. By the time we leave, he will be ready to jump out of his skin. Quite cunning, little brother."

"Why, thank you," Elrohir said with a nod to his brother.

"But what if he decides that he should take the initiative and act against us?" Elladan asked, tilting his head in curiosity.

"We are in his home, we should be relatively safe," Elrohir responded. "He will not do much against us with the chance that his father will find out and become displeased with him. Most of the things he has done to us have been in Imladris or our travels. "

Elladan thought back over their long history together, and concluded that his brother was correct. "Genius, true genius."

Sitting up on the bed, Elrohir laughed lightly. "And the best part is that now we do not need to worry about coming up with something else to do to him." Standing, he started rummaging around in the closet where their clothes were neatly hanging. "It never ceases to amaze me how efficient Thranduil's people are. We have barely been here long enough to exchange greetings, and our belongings have already been settled in our rooms."

"Do not let Erestor hear you say that," Elladan said, moving to stand beside Elrohir and reaching past him to grab a set of formal robes. "He would be hurt if you thought Thranduil's seneschal runs the palace more smoothly than he runs Imladris."

Choosing his own set of robes, Elrohir chuckled. "We cannot have that, or he would make our lives miserable. We will simply not mention that we discussed this, shall we?"

They bantered easily as they cleaned up after their journey and readied themselves for the evening meal. Elladan had chosen robes in a deep green with gold embroidery on the collar and cuffs, while Elrohir chose to wear black with silver embroidery down the front. After a last check to be sure that their robes and circlets were sitting as they should, they left their room to head to the dining hall.

When they entered the hall, they found a larger number of people than they had expected. Pausing in the doorway as Legolas approached them, they glanced around, finding their father deep in conversation with Thranduil. Arwen was already seated, and speaking easily with those around her. Two empty seats remained beside her, presumably waiting for the two of them.

"Legolas?" Elladan questioned with a raised eyebrow and a curious glance around the room.

"I did say it was a formal occasion," Legolas replied with a grin. "I merely forgot to mention that it would be attended by all those who have had a part in raising Minuial from her childhood as well as our family and guests. This is the last night that she will be considered a child. Tomorrow she will be declared an adult, and this is the chance for her tutors, nurses, trainers and the staff who have watched her grow to adulthood to spend time with her before the ceremony." With a gesture toward the room, he indicated their waiting chairs. "Would you care to be seated?"

"We are not late, are we?" Elrohir asked, noticing that most of the other seats were already taken.

"No, the dinner is not starting just yet, do not worry," Legolas said. As they approached the table, he nodded to Arwen. "I see you have already made an acquaintance with your neighbors." Turning to the twins, he gestured to those sitting near their chairs, introducing the tutors and trainers in turn. "You will have a chance to meet the others after dinner." Looking over, he saw his father gesturing to him. "And now I must take my leave of you. Have a pleasant meal." With that, Legolas nodded to those seated at the table and moved to take his own place with his family.

Elladan and Elrohir seated themselves and turned their attention to Arwen and the others seated around them. Arwen turned back to the elleth across the table that she had been speaking with before the interruption caused by the arrival of her brothers. She had been introduced as Mereneth, the tutor that had been with Minuial since she was old enough to start lessons. She had hair the color of honey and pale blue eyes that could have seemed cold but for the warmth filling them as she spoke. She looked back and forth between the identical elves, then looked at Arwen with curiosity. "I have never met identical twins. How do you tell them apart?"

A mischievous gleam entered Elrohir's eyes and he replied before Arwen could answer. "That is simple. I am the better looking, more charming, better tempered, and…ooof," he grunted as Elladan elbowed him in the ribs.

"More modest…" Elladan put in smoothly with an eyebrow raised toward his brother while Elrohir regained his breath.

Mereneth laughed at their antics while Arwen just raised her eyebrows and glanced aside at her brothers. "You have both been in a very odd mood lately." She looked back to Mereneth. "At times, it seems they have never grown up. I would think them mere elflings if I did not know better."

Elrohir rubbed his ribs and glanced over at his sister. "We are simply in a good mood. Is that so unusual?" He raised his hand in a halting gesture. "No, please refrain from answering that question." Giving Mereneth a wry grin, he dropped his arm back to his side. "I learned long ago that it is never wise to ask a sibling if there is something unusual about you. You will inevitably not appreciate the answer." As Mereneth chuckled, he glanced between her and Arwen. "What were the two of you discussing before we joined you?"

"Gondolin," Arwen answered. "Mereneth is a scholar whose interests focus on the history of the Eldar. She has studied and taught many other subjects, but history is what she loves best."

Giving the other an appraising look, Elrohir propped his elbow on the table and leaned in closer. "If you wish to know the history of Gondolin, there is one here you should ask. Glorfindel is sitting just down the table, near our father. He could tell you much more of that time and place than any of us."

Her eyes widened at his comment, and she shook her head quickly. "Oh, I could not ask him."

"Why not?" Elrohir asked in confusion, glancing down the table at his captain, before looking back to the elleth across the table. "I am sure he would be willing to discuss it with you. We have heard many tales of that great kingdom and the people who dwelt within it over the years."

A look of shock crossed her face. "You want me to talk to Glorfindel, Lord of the House of the Golden Flower, balrog-slayer, one who died and returned to life in Arda?" Her voice rose in pitch as she spoke, sounding little more than a squeak when she finished.

Soft laughter rolled out of Elrohir as he shook his head. "There is nothing to worry about. Glorfindel is quite gentle and kind. You have nothing to fear from him."

A wry chuckle escaped Elladan at that comment. "Don't let him hear you say that, or our next training session will be more grueling than any before it." At Mereneth's wide-eyed look, Elladan relented. "Of course, he is much harder on those he trains than he would be on an innocent elleth asking questions from genuine interest."

"We can introduce you after the meal," Elrohir said gently, "if you would like."

"I think I would prefer to discuss it with the three of you first," she responded shyly. "You have heard many of his tales, as you said, but you are not quite so intimidating." A rueful smile crossed her face as she admitted that she found Glorfindel so formidable that she could barely even think of speaking to him.

Raising an eyebrow, Elrohir glanced at his brother. "Not as intimidating as Glorfindel? Should we be hurt?"

Rolling his eyes, Elladan just shook his head. "Arwen was correct. You are in a strange mood tonight. Glorfindel's history is much more impressive than our own. We have known him our whole lives, but for those who have never met him, he can seem rather imposing." He shrugged and turned his attention back to the tutor. "What would you like to discuss?"

"I would love to hear any stories you have," she answered enthusiastically, looking back and forth among the siblings. "I have never actually spoken to anyone who had been there. Second hand stories, surviving journal accounts, and the history that all are taught are the sum of my knowledge." She blushed slightly as she continued. "Though I am fascinated with our history, I have seen very little of it for myself, you see. I am a little younger than Prince Legolas, and have devoted my life to scholarly pursuits. My mother was Legolas' tutor and she instilled in me a love of learning. It was my greatest honor to be appointed to teach Minuial. Whatever you choose to relate, it will be wondrous to me."

Arwen and Elladan looked to Elrohir, and he nodded. He had always been the most fascinated by Glorfindel's stories, though all three had loved to hear them. Elrohir started by telling a tale of Glorfindel and Ecthelion in the high days of Gondolin, long before the enemy found them, when all was calm and peaceful. Many of Glorfindel's tales had focused on the wonders of Gondolin and the life he had lived there. The tales continued throughout the meal, with Elladan and Arwen chiming in when they thought Elrohir forgot an important detail. Mereneth took in each story with fascination, enthralled with all she was learning. Her questions were discerning and insightful as she sought to learn some aspect not covered in the tales. It was toward the end of the meal that the subject of the fall of the great city entered the conversation.

Elrohir sat back in his seat with a grave expression on his face. "I cannot imagine it. Even though I have seen many battles and skirmishes in my time, destruction on that scale still escapes me. I shudder to think what they must have felt at the moment that they realized they had been found. The sheer horror of losing the home they loved, nearly everyone they knew, with only a handful of people able to escape…" He shook his head and stared down at his plate. "I fear that in their place, I would have lost myself to the horror and pain of it."

His voice held a hint of the pain he was imagining, and Elladan reached out, placing a hand on his brother's shoulder. The elder twin knew that Elrohir was thinking of how he would feel in that situation, Imladris besieged, their parents and Arwen in mortal danger. Gently squeezing the shoulder upon which his hand lay, he turned back to Mereneth. "By the time they knew the enemy had found them, there was little they could do. They fought to protect their home and people, but there was no hope of defeating the forces arrayed against them. If not for Idril's foresight in creating the escape tunnel, all would have perished there."

"And our family line would have ended there as well," Arwen said softly, watching her brothers.

Mereneth was silent for a moment, not sure what to say. "I'm sorry," she finally said. "I did not mean to bring pain to any of you."

"You are not to blame," Arwen said, reaching out and touching her hand reassuringly. "I suppose we are more sensitive to this topic, knowing Glorfindel as we do and knowing a little of what he suffered there. He seldom speaks of the fall, but when he does, there is such pain in his eyes…" Her voice trailed off and she fell silent.

Staring at the table, not seeming to notice those around him, Elrohir spoke quietly so that the others had to strain to hear him. "I made the mistake once of asking him about the battle with the balrog." A shudder swept through his frame. "For a long moment, he simply stared at me. I was about to apologize and leave when he answered my impertinent question." He closed his eyes and took a shaky breath. "It is not something I would ever wish to hear again." Shaking his head abruptly, he opened his eyes and looked at the others. "Forgive me. This night is supposed to be a celebration, is it not? Perhaps we should find a more cheerful subject of which to speak." Looking around the room, he noticed that those who had finished their meal were leaving the tables behind to gather in the open half of the room, to mix and speak with more people than was possible during a meal.

Taking a deep breath, he gave a small smile. "Shall we join the others?" Seeing that Glorfindel was standing off to the side by himself, observing the people in the room, Elrohir turned to face Mereneth. "We can introduce you to Glorfindel, and you can ask him all the questions you like. So long as you do not broach the topic of the fall of Gondolin, he will be perfectly willing to answer them."

Mereneth looked back and forth between the three siblings. "Very well. I would like to meet him, so long as you stay with me."

Elrohir laughed. "We would not leave you to speak with Glorfindel alone, knowing how imposing you find him." He stood to his feet and gestured for the others to stand. "Come," he said, walking around the table to offer Mereneth his arm.

Mereneth took a deep breath as they approached Glorfindel with Arwen and Elladan. Elrohir made the introductions, and Mereneth managed to find her voice long enough to start asking her questions. Once Glorfindel began answering her and telling his memories of Gondolin, several others stopped by to listen, including Minuial, Legolas and many of the younger elves that had never heard his stories. Quite a crowd had gathered by the time Glorfindel called a halt to the storytelling. "I think that is enough for one night."

A small smile quirked his lips at the grumbles from his audience. Waiting until the crowd dispersed, he turned to the children of his lord and their new friend. "I believe they would have kept me talking all night." He glanced aside to where a selection of drinks was laid out on a table against the wall. "And if you will excuse me, I think I will go and ease my thirst." Looking back to them, he nodded to first Mereneth and then the others. "It was a pleasure to meet you, fair lady. I will see you all at the morning meal." With that, he headed for the table of refreshments, took a glass of Dorwinion wine and then joined Elrond and Thranduil in conversation.

Elrohir looked at Mereneth, a grin spread across his face. "That was not so difficult, was it?"

Smiling back, she shook her head. "Not difficult at all. You were correct. Lord Glorfindel is much easier to talk to than I had anticipated. I did quite enjoy his stories. Perhaps I can hear more later."

"We will be here for several weeks," Elrohir said with a small shrug. "I am sure you will find more opportunities to speak with him. In the meantime, I would like to discuss Thingol and Melian. I am curious to know if the Sindar have any different tales than are known to us. I have spent some time in Thranduil's libraries, but have not had as much time as I would like there. In my conversations with Legolas, historical events and peoples are not often the topic."

Mereneth's face lit with pleasure at the thought of finding someone else who would be interested in discussing history. "I would enjoy that."

Elladan just gave his brother a wry grin. His main interest in history was tactical in nature, wanting to know how others had won and lost engagements and battles throughout history. Elrohir, on the other hand, had always been interested in knowing what people thought and felt and why they reacted the way they did. With a smile, Elladan took Arwen's arm and they took their leave of the two as they became immersed in their conversation.

Once they were back in their room after the feasting ended, Elrohir plopped down on his bed. Relaxing back into the cushioned surface with a sigh, he looked over at his brother and grinned. "For a formal dinner, that was not as tedious as I might have expected."

Elladan gave a soft huff of amusement as he removed his silver circlet and put it away in a drawer. "Despite being a formal dinner, it was also a feast in the woodland style, though I imagine tomorrow's feast will be much more festive and on a much larger scale. You did not seem as if you found it the least bit tedious."

"Having an intelligent dinner companion helped," Elrohir said, giving his older brother a smirk.

"Why do I get the impression you do not refer to me?" Elladan asked wryly.

Elrohir laughed at the disgruntled tone in Elladan's voice. "You have to admit that you rarely wish to discuss history with me unless it revolves around battle tactics and decisions. I enjoyed speaking with another who shares my interests." Pushing himself to a sitting position, he watched as Elladan moved about the room, putting his formal clothes aside and changing into sleeping attire. "Do you think Arwen was correct, that we were behaving in an unusual manner tonight?"

Sitting down on his bed, Elladan gazed at his brother and contemplated the question seriously. "Perhaps," Elladan allowed. "But I would consider it to be due to relief. We were finally settling into our lives here, believing that Naneth was safe. Then we were attacked on the journey here." Raising a hand, he headed off anything Elrohir was about to say. "While we have already discussed the memories that event brought back to the both of us, it did cause us both a great deal of fear and worry. Upon arriving here, we realized that Naneth was safe again. I have seen such relief cause euphoria in many experienced warriors."

Elrohir grew still as he thought over Elladan's words. "Perhaps you are correct," he replied finally. "There is a great sense of relief within me that we arrived here safely. As many times as you and I have been in battle, never have those battles included our parents and Arwen. We have never had so much to lose." He nodded to himself, then looked back at his brother. "In this, I must agree with your assessment."

Stretching, Elladan reclined back upon his bed. "So, you admit that your brother is not so dull after all?"

"Well," Elrohir gave him a wicked grin, "I did not say that." Elladan just rolled his eyes, then laid down, ignoring Elrohir. With a smirk, Elrohir rose from his bed to make his own preparations for sleep. As he settled back into his bed some minutes later, he heard Elladan's soft voice.

"At least the euphoria is usually short-lived. I do not believe Thranduil would ever forgive us if we did anything to interfere with the ceremony tomorrow evening." Elladan's voice was slow with sleep.

Elrohir's voice was amused as he responded. "Were we to do that, we would not only answer to Thranduil, but Legolas, Adar, Naneth, Arwen, Glorfindel…" He shuddered as he kept thinking of those to add to the list. "No, I agree that we must behave as is expected of those in our position."

"Besides, I would hate to disappoint Minuial. She seems a much more likable person than her eldest brother," Elladan said softly just before drifting off to sleep.

Shaking his head at the thought that Elladan had to remind him to behave during the ceremony the next night, Elrohir stared at the ceiling for a few moments before following his brother into slumber.

--

The next morning, after rising, the twins dressed in the tunics and leggings they often wore when there were no formal demands upon them. While the royal household would be quite busy with preparation for the ceremony and feast to follow, Elladan and Elrohir were guests and had no obligations until the evening's events. After a quick stop in the dining hall to partake of the fruits, breads, pastries and juices on offer, they gathered their weapons and made their way to the training field.

Finding a training session with a group of novices taking place, Elladan and Elrohir found a free corner of the field and began sparring lightly to loosen their muscles before beginning to spar in earnest. The first match lasted half an hour before they reached a pause, Elladan twisting and swinging his sword at Elrohir, only to have Elrohir's sword stop the motion with a clash. Staring at each other over their straining swords, they finally nodded and stepped back, taking a moment to catch their breath.

It was only at that moment, as they glanced around, that they realized all of the novices on the field, as well as the trainer, were watching their sparring session. Elladan and Elrohir stared at each other, nonplused to find themselves the center of attention. Seeing their discomfort, the trainer approached them.

"Forgive us, my lords," he said, bowing his head toward them. "I am Thallion, and it is my responsibility to ensure that these novices are well trained and able to defend themselves and their people when they leave these walls. I could not help noticing how well you both fight and decided my students would learn a great deal by observing you. I hope we did not make you uncomfortable."

"It is well," Elrohir assured him. "We were only surprised. We chose this location because we thought it far enough from your class not to be a distraction."

Glancing between them, he smiled as he realized they were not offended by the scrutiny. "Would you be interested in demonstrating your skills as part of today's lesson?"

At Elladan's shrug, Elrohir replied for them both. "We would enjoy helping with your training session today."

For the rest of the morning, the twins assisted Thallion with the novices. They demonstrated whichever moves the trainer wished, then worked personally with the novices to help them learn the motions that could one day save their lives. The hours passed quickly, and before they knew it, it was time to go back to the dining hall for the noon meal. As with breakfast, it was an informal meal this day, with people taking only long enough to stop in and grab a quick meal before returning to the preparations for the evening's festivities. When they entered the room, they saw Glorfindel seated at a table alone. After choosing their meals, they joined him.

Glancing at their still disheveled appearance and the weapons hanging from their belts, a small smile crossed his lips. "Only here for a day, and you have already found your way to the training fields? I at least hope you have been practicing what I taught you before you left Imladris. Your reactions were still rather sloppy at our last session."

"Sloppy?" a voice asked in disbelief from behind them.

Turning, Elladan and Elrohir saw Thallion approaching their table, his food balanced on the plates in his hands. Motioning for him to join them, they introduced him to Glorfindel, and his expression changed from amazement to one of deep respect. After greeting Glorfindel, Thallion took a seat across from Elladan. "Perhaps their movements could be considered clumsy to you, my lord, but there are few others who would make that assessment. I asked them to help in the training of my students this morning, and I do believe the novices learned a great deal. The sons of Elrond proved themselves quite adept in the art of teaching, and showed an uncommon patience with those they trained."

Elrohir waved off the compliments. "We enjoy sharing our skills with others. It is the greatest thing a warrior can do, training others to be able to defend themselves and those they love."

Seconding his brother's sentiment, Elladan spoke up. "We would not be alive today if not for the training we received from Glorfindel and others. It was our honor to help you today in giving those novices the same chances for survival."

Glancing back and forth between the identical brothers, Thallion broached a question he had wanted to ask since the first moment he saw how well they worked with his students. "I know you will not be here more than a few weeks, but would you be willing to work with the novices in their morning sessions while you are here? I could use the help, and they will benefit greatly from your training."

A quick look over at his brother was all that Elrohir needed, and he turned to Thallion, saying, "It would be our honor."

For the remainder of their meal, the four spoke of various training methods and worked out a schedule between Thallion and the twins. After he had finished eating, Thallion stood and excused himself, so that he could return to his duties. Once he left, Glorfindel stared at the brothers. "I believe I will accompany you tomorrow morning. I would like to observe how you interact with the novices."

An amused smile crept across Elrohir's face. "Why, Glorfindel, it sounds as if you do not believe that we are capable of training them."

Glorfindel sat back in his chair, glancing around to be sure none would overhear. "Patience is not a quality I would have attributed to either of you," he murmured with a significant look. That look made it obvious he was referring to their years of battling orcs, years that had not happened in this version of history.

Elladan shook his head, not allowing Glorfindel's inference to bother him. "You forget, Glorfindel, that we have helped train generations of Isildur's heirs to survive in the wilds. Even if we have not trained as many elves as you have, or over as long a period of time, there is nothing that can be compared to trying to train overly energetic children. In that, we have a great deal of experience, and have learned patience. Do not fear that we will lose patience with the young elves we will train here."

A wry smile crossed Glorfindel's face as he saw the truth in their words. They had trained many of Isildur's heirs over the years, though he was sure that Elladan referred to one heir in particular; one who was not yet born. "You are correct, Elladan. It can be most trying to one's patience to attempt training children. I remember one time in particular that you and your brother thought you were ready to begin training with real swords. That incident nearly ended up in your brother losing a hand, if I recall."

Elladan's face flushed as Glorfindel started laughing. He had not expected the golden-haired elf to turn the conversation in that direction, though he supposed he should have. Knowing he was rising to the bait, he could not but help to respond. "The blade never touched him."

"No, but it was a close thing," Glorfindel said. He turned more serious then, gazing back and forth between them. "Perhaps you are ready for more responsibility in the Imladris guard. I know you have led your own patrols for several centuries now, but when we return, I would like to discuss the training regimen of our warriors. Perhaps you would like to take a more active role in designing and carrying out their training?"

At their astonished expressions, he simply nodded to them and stood from the table. "Consider it." Turning on his heel, he walked away, leaving them staring until he left the room.

Elrohir turned to his brother. "Did Glorfindel just treat us as his equals rather than errant children?"

A chuckle escaped Elladan. "He has treated us as adults many times in the past, Elrohir. But you are correct. Even in those times, I had the sense that he was working not to see us as the children we once were. Perhaps these recent events have forced him to see that we have long since grown up." He shrugged, looking toward the doorway in which he had disappeared. Noting the pensive look on Elrohir's face, he had to ask. "Does that trouble you?"

Looking off into the distance for a long moment, Elrohir thought over his answer before speaking. "When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than for our parents, Glorfindel and the others to see me as an adult, trusting that I could make the correct decisions for myself. Now that it has happened, I feel as if we have lost something. Odd." His tone was distant as he mused over the feeling. Shaking his head abruptly, he leaned back in his seat. "Do not mind me. Things have been odd for some time now." He glanced around the room. "Should we go see what the rest of our family is doing? There are still several hours before we need to be ready for tonight."

Leaving the dining hall, they wandered the grounds, finding Arwen and Celebrían deep in conversation about the best environment and methods to ensure the growth of a particular type of rose that Celebrían grew in her gardens as well. Nodding to them, the twins continued on, not overly interested in how to grow the flowers, though they did enjoy the final results as much as any other elf. For the remainder of the afternoon, they wandered the grounds and gardens, enjoying the sense of peace that still surrounded the palace, though much of the surrounding woods grew darker by the day.

It was finally time to retire to their rooms to begin their preparations for the evening. Taking turns in the bathing chamber, they rid themselves of the grime of the day and changed into their formal robes, sparing no effort for the ceremony. Elladan chose a robe of a deep blue with silver edging and embroidery, while Elrohir dressed in a robe of a dark burgundy with gold thread. After braiding their hair in a formal style, they carefully placed the mithril and gold circlets on their heads. Giving his brother a once over, Elladan nodded in satisfaction. "I believe we are ready. Shall we?" He gestured toward the door, letting Elrohir lead the way toward the Great Hall where the ceremony would take place.

They quickly took their places with their family and the other honored guests, standing and talking quietly before the ceremony began. Elrohir took note of the fact that there seemed to be a delegation of noblemen from Laketown also in attendance. The hushed conversations ceased as Thranduil entered with his family, moving to stand before the assembled crowd. Raising his hand, Thranduil welcomed his guests and intoned the traditional chant to begin the ceremony.

As usual, when Elrohir witnessed the coming of age ceremony, he could not help but think about the future of the one who had just reached adulthood. In this case, what would Minuial's life be like? For the next five hundred years, her realm would be under siege from the forces gathered in Dol Guldur. The forest around them would fall further and further under the darkness with little hope in sight. What would become of her? Would she be able to hold onto the hope of better times for their world? Elrohir had not had much contact with her in his own time line, though he had heard Legolas often speak of his younger sister. In his time, she had turned her attention to the art of diplomacy and a study of music. Though he did not think that their actions should change anything about her life, there were now more than twenty elves from Imladris here that were not present in the original history. How would that affect the elves of Mirkwood? Would it affect them at all, or would events progress exactly as they had before? So lost in his thoughts was he that he almost missed the ending of the ceremony. Jolted out of his musings when the crowd around him began speaking the traditional closing, he quickly joined his voice to theirs.

After the ceremony, the crowd filed outside to where the feast was to be held. Long tables full of food were scattered around the clearing in front of the palace. The gifts that had been presented to Minuial were elsewhere, and she would get to them in her own time. Once the royal family joined the crowd outside, well-wishers gathered around Minuial to congratulate and speak with her. Allowing the crowd to thin somewhat, Elladan and Elrohir made their way forward to offer their own congratulations. Minuial thanked them in the proper manner, then turned to her next guest. Her official duties would soon be finished, leaving her to enjoy the feast as she would, but she must first greet all of her guests.

Once the initial greetings were finished, the guests began filling their plates and partaking of the fine foods and drinks set out for their pleasure. Elrohir chose his favorites from the vast offerings and joined his brother and Thallion near a stand of beech trees as they discussed various fighting styles and the best way to train others. Glorfindel soon joined them, and they spoke for a time until Thallion saw someone else with whom he needed to speak. Legolas joined them for a few moments, but his duties kept him from staying long. Once their food was finished, Elladan and Elrohir took their drinks and wandered among the other guests, stopping to speak with some, nodding and smiling in passing to others. At some point, Elrohir continued on while his brother became engrossed in conversation, and he found himself at the edge of the clearing, beyond the circle of light given off by the fires and torches.

Gazing upward at the vista of sparkling stars stretched above him against the velvet darkness of the night, his eyes easily found Eärendil. His mind fell back into his earlier musings as he watched the stars in their nightly paths far beyond the concerns of those who dwelt on Arda.

"You seem far removed from here at this moment," a soft voice spoke out of the darkness, breaking into his thoughts.

Turning, Elrohir saw Mereneth standing a few feet away, watching him. He could not help but notice how becoming she looked with the light from the fires behind her surrounding her in a nimbus of radiance. The flickering fire cast rays that scattered and bounced off of her hair and Elrohir had to take a moment to appreciate the overall effect before he could smile at her and incline his head to invite her closer. "I suppose my thoughts were far from this place and time," he replied in answer to her comment.

"Where then were your thoughts just now?" she asked as she came to stand near him, leaving the rest of the party behind.

In response, Elrohir turned his attention back toward the sky and pointed upward. Following his arm, she quickly found Eärendil. When she glanced back to Elrohir, he saw her eyes light up with curiosity and excitement at the thought of being able to discuss Eärendil with a member of his family. "Your grandfather? Do you often seek him out in the quiet of the night?"

"Quite often," Elrohir answered softly, still gazing upward. "Whenever we sleep beneath the stars, out on patrol, gathered around a campfire, or simply when I happen to have a moment to myself on a night such as this."

Hearing the serious note in his voice, she quieted the note of excitement in hers. "What do you ponder when you watch him?"

Elrohir struggled to put into words his feelings about Eärendil and their family history. "Many things cross my mind, but I find myself wondering who he was, why he made the choices he did." At her confused look, he elaborated. "I know why he made the choice to go to Valinor. If not for his call for help from the Valar, the War of Wrath would have ended very differently. At that point, his actions were necessary, and I am quite grateful that he took them. No, I refer more to his earlier choices. I have never understood how he could have so easily left behind a wife and two sons to sail the seas, searching for what he could never find." His gaze was distant as he reflected on Earendil's choice to search for his parents, even knowing as he did that he had sailed also to find Valinor, a quest which was ultimately fulfilled, to the benefit of all of Arda.

Eyes narrowing, Mereneth pondered Elrohir's words. "Do you disagree with his choice, knowing how necessary his actions were to the salvation of our world?"

His next words did not directly answer her question. "My father has no memory of his father. Is that fair to him? Was it fair to his brother, or their mother? I understand the necessity of making sacrifices for the good of your people, but did he not love his family enough to stay near them?" He glanced briefly at her before turning his attention back to the stars. "He never even made an attempt to save his sons from their captors. Had my brother and I been taken in similar circumstances, Adar would have ridden against the very forces of Morgoth to retrieve us. How then could his father turn away so easily?" His voice dropped to a whisper as he continued. "Ada has seen so much loss in his life, his parents, his brother, his king, his…" Elrohir bit off the next word, not completing the thought.

"You identify with your father in this," Mereneth commented softly. "That is understandable. You know and love him, and you never knew your grandfather. But can you not place yourself in his position at all? Do his choices truly make no sense to you? Do not take away from the despair and pain he must have felt at knowing his sons were in enemy hands and there was nothing he could do to retrieve them. Is there a grudge in your heart against him for his actions?"

A soft sigh escaped Elrohir. "No, I bear him no grudge. His life has always struck me as a tragic one. He survived the fall of Gondolin, only to see his new home destroyed and his family taken, the survivors of his people uniting under Gil-Galad. Even though he reached Valinor and brought the aid of the Valar to Arda in its time of need, he never saw his sons again, and chose to be of elf-kind for the sake of his wife, though it would not have been his choice otherwise. And now, he sails the trackless seas far above the cares and concerns of Arda, seldom returning to the wife he loves. It seems a very lonely existence to me."

"I suppose it does, at that," Mereneth said, stepping closer and placing a tentative hand on his arm. "But consider this, if his life had been any different, would events have happened as they did? Without his journey to Valinor, Morgoth would have prevailed. Though your father's early life was far from ideal, would he have become who he is without those experiences? We are formed by all of the experiences of our lives, Elrohir, the good and the bad. Do not dwell on the sorrows of the past, or you will be unable to see the joys of the life you have, and that would be a loss, indeed."

A wry grin crossed Elrohir's face. "You speak as one of the wise, though your advice sounds odd coming from one who studies the past." He shook his head abruptly, reaching up to gently squeeze the hand resting on his arm. "Thank you. I did not mean to dwell on such thoughts this evening. This is supposed to be a celebration, is it not?" As he released her hand, she withdrew it and took a step back toward the light and sound of the festivities.

Her head tilted to the side. "The music has started; the dancing can not be far behind. Would you care to join me?" Her eyes were bright as she glanced back over her shoulder toward the others.

Elrohir hesitated. "Dancing is not a skill at which I excel."

"Nonsense," she laughed. "You are a warrior, are you not? If you can fight, you can learn to dance. Come." She held a hand out toward him, and he allowed himself to be drawn toward the group of dancing elves, grumbling the entire time. A small quirk of his lips showed that he was not as unhappy with the situation as he pretended.

Neither of them noticed Elladan standing in the shadows watching them, a concerned expression on his face.