Though a bitter wind blew outside, hurling sleet against the windows, inside the room was quiet and peaceful. Heavy curtains shut the icy weather out and kept the warmth in.
Celebrían sat by the fireside, engrossed in a book of ancient lays from Númenor, while Elladan and Elrohir were both working on an essay Erestor had set them. They were seated at opposite ends of the table to prevent them copying each other – though she reflected that it was a pointless safeguard. Their work was so similar it would be indistinguishable in any case – though given half a chance Elladan would indeed leave his brother to do all the work. They were working in blissful silence for once. The only sounds were the occasional sigh, the crack and hiss of flames from the fire, and the muffled howl of the wind.
At last Elrohir finished, and wrote the final word with a flourish. He flung the quill down – and a large blot of ink spread over his last few lines.
He gave a cry of dismay. "Balrog's balls, El! Now look what you made me do!"
"Me?" Elladan cried from the other end of the table, indignant at this unjust accusation. "I didn't do anything!"
"Yes you did!" Elrohir retorted. "You knocked the table! You must have! You …"
"Elladan! Elrohir!" Celebrían snapped. "Stop arguing!" She frowned. "Elrohir, you know very well that Elladan did no such thing. And please do not use words like that."
He looked puzzled. "What words, Nana? Do you mean Balrog's …"
"Yes!" She interrupted him before he could repeat the expression, and took a deep breath. "Where did you learn words like that?"
Elrohir looked both guilty and confused; aware that he had done something wrong, but not quite sure what it was. "Well …" he looked at her expression and gulped. "I heard someone say it."
"Someone? Who?" she insisted.
Elrohir squirmed, and looked down the table for support from Elladan. The accusation still rankled though, and Elladan kept his head down, concentrating on his work and pretending to be unaware of his brother's dilemma. Elrohir gave him a look of disgust at this betrayal, and Celebrían found it hard to suppress her amusement and maintain a look of stern disapproval.
She knew perfectly well where Elrohir had heard the phrase, of course. It was a favourite of Glorfindel's. Her sons rather hero-worshipped him, and he could do no wrong in their eyes – but they were old enough to know that some things overheard should not be repeated. Glorfindel's colourful expressions were among them.
"Who?" she repeated.
Elrohir scuffed his foot against the rug. "Someone," he muttered.
She let the silence draw out; waiting. Elrohir sighed. "Glorfindel," he admitted at last. "But Nana, what's wrong with saying Balrog's balls? Glorfindel says it all the time. You don't tell him off!"
"Glorfindel is a grown elf – and I am not his naneth. There are some things that adults say and do which you should not – which you know perfectly well! You do not hear your father or me say such things. Now, promise me that you will not say that again."
Elrohir scowled. Before he could answer, the study door flew open and Elrond came in, casting off his cloak and shaking snow from his hair. "Morgoth's teeth, it is cold out there!" he exclaimed.
Elrohir gave a snort of laughter which was echoed by Elladan, and Celebrían resisted the temptation to bury her face in her hands. Elrond stopped in mid step, his gaze switching from his wife to his sons.
"What? What did I say?"