"Another song!" Cried Thainren as he cheerfully raised his mug of ale. They had just finished the rousing Dwarven Drinking Song. The elf-boy's face had flushed pink in embarrassment during the song, causing much laughter among the dwarves.

"How about you, boy." One of the dwarves slurred cheekily. "You carry that harp. Surely, you must know a tune."

The young one's eyes fell. He truly looked more like a man than an elf, especially since he and his brother had their hair cut in the Edain village. That was almost two years ago and his hair was only now falling below his shoulders. It was much too short for an elf of his age but too long for a man.

"I know none such entertaining songs." The elf admitted, his Khuzdul (dwarven language) slightly awkward but quite understandable.

"Sing the Lay of Lúthien, your ancestress!" Another suggested. The rest of the group chimed in agreement. They had been drinking for far too long. The boy finally acquiesced and took a gulp of his watered down ale. He had acclimated somewhat to its bitter taste. Two months traveling with the dwarven party had been very enlightening. He had vastly improved his command of their language and was finally able to hold steady conversations.

The boy picked up his harp and began to play. His young voice weaving haunting images of the human Beren and the half Maia, half elf beauty Lúthien as they fell deeply in love. The unusual couple thwarted convention and defied family for all they held dear. The dwarves listened spellbound to the tale. After it was finished the boy, drained from the experience, received abundant praise. Exhausted and slightly tipsy, the party fell into a restful sleep.

"Wake up little one." Thainren shook the boy gently. Groggily, Elrond opened his eyes. His head ached slightly from the ale that he had consumed the previous night even though the amount he had consumed was small. Thainren thrust a glass of water into his hand as well as a strange bark-like solid. "I see your tolerance for our ale is low." He smiled kindly. "Chew on this resin, it will help with the headache."

"Why must you call me little one?" The elf complained. "I'm quite a bit taller than you." The dwarf chuckled under his snowy beard.

"You are what – barely twenty? I am fifty-six, past my majority."

"I've seen twenty two years." Elrond protested.

"Aye, were you a man, you would be barely into your majority and by elven reckoning you are yet a young child." Thainren laughed. In truth the boy, who had been subjected to ten years of captivity among a people who denigrated his mixed blood, was far older in his years than some. But in other ways the young one was naïve and innocent. He was moved by even the slightest kindness that was shown him. "Though truly, in two months, I have grown very fond of you, young one. I like to think of you as my little brother." He punched him playfully on the arm. "What did you like best about my father's home, about the dwarven caves?" The boy looked up with sparkling eyes.

"I have never seen such magnificence." His awe rang clearly in his voice. "And to watch you carve stone into works of art or see your people at the forge, these were most impressive."

"I will teach you more of carving when we arrive in Mithlond." Thainren promised. He saw a frown pass over the boy's face. "You do still want to go to Mithlond? Or have you changed your mind?"

Elrond had joined the dwarven travelers as their party passed through the Edain village that he and his brother were staying in. He was much too young to travel alone especially in these dangerous times. The dwarven party was headed to Mithlond, exactly where he had wished to go. As a bonus, he had even gotten to visit their home in the mountains. It was an opportunity that was too good to pass up even though he had to be parted from his brother for a while. Elros was not ready to leave the Edain village.

"I do want to see Mithlond!" The boy said in a shaky voice. "I …. I just am not sure if I will be welcome there." He thought back on the prejudice and hatred he had experienced in Amon Ereb. He could not fault his twin for choosing to remain with the Edain. They had been welcomed among them as kin. It had been such an unaccustomed and wonderful feeling to be accepted. Elrond lived there quite happily for over a year, learning about their culture and shadowing their healer. But his heart told him that he needed to seek out other elves to see if they also held the views of the Feanorians about his mixed heritage. He also hoped that some of their friends had miraculously survived the attack at Sirion.

"Child!" Thainren smiled when Elrond automatically bristled at the term. "How could you not be welcome there? I have met King Gil-Galad, and he is fair and wise. One with a heart such as yours will be most welcome. Fear not! As my father pledged, you will always be known as a dwarf friend, no matter how long a life you live." The dwarf smiled upon seeing the boy relax. "Come eat some breakfast, then we must continue our journey. We will pass into the boundary of Mithlond in a few days and we will enter the city in another week."

Elrond fought to keep the excitement at that news off his face. "Alright, my friend. I could use some breakfast."

Xxxxxxx

"Thainren, tell me more about how you make the carving tools. How are they strong enough to cut through such hard stone?" The boy begged. He wanted to learn more of metallurgy. His thirst for knowledge was insatiable.

"Elrond, I have been teaching you non-stop all morning. Please, little one, my throat is quite parched." The boy sighed and walked away returning with a mug full of ale and a plate of lunch.

"I am sorry Thainren. I didn't mean to anger you." The boy said sheepily and handed the dwarf the food and drink. Thainren smiled. He had never met a young one so bright and inquisitive yet touched by such sorrow.

"It is alright, little one. Go get yourself some lunch. We should be meeting up with elves soon." The boy's eyes sparkled in anticipation. But as he walked past the tree, a tall being pulled him backwards, setting a sharp sword at his neck and twisting his hands behind his back.

"Be still Edain." The voice ordered in heavily accented common Tongue. "And I won't hurt you." The boy stood speechless, while dwarves bounded to their feet, realizing that elven warriors now surrounded them.

"Is that how you greet friends and artisans!" Thainren bellowed in Sindarin as he advanced on them. "Do not scare the elfling, he is dear to me!" The elf holding Elrond quickly lowered his sword but kept his grip on the trembling boy, who spoke not a word and looked down at the ground.

"Elfling? Surely this is a man!" He drew back Elrond's dark hair and traced the pointed ear. It was slightly more curved than most elves but definitely of the firstborn. "Forgive me, elfling. I did not realize." Thainren quickly drew Elrond behind him, shielding him from the elf. The boy huddled behind the dwarf too numb to look up. Several of Thrainren's companions drew near the shocked youth as if to protect him.

"He is a peredhel. Surely, you should respect the son of Eärendil! I am going to introduce him to the High King and I know that he will be greatly displeased when he hears how you welcomed his kin." The soldier swiftly bowed before Elrond formally apologizing. The boy did not look up nor speak a word.

"We have just stopped for lunch. Will you join us?" Thainren asked as he pulled Elrond down to sit beside him. That a descendent of Elu Thingol needed to be succored among dwarves was to Thainren the ultimate irony. He handed the elfling a plate of food and tossled his hair affectionately. He motioned to several of his trusted companions, who sat down close to the stunned elfling, while he and the leader of the elves' patrol spoke of the situation in Mithlond and the safety of the road they yet needed to traverse. The boy ate in silence, only just finding the courage to steal shy glances at the warriors, who had joined them. Some of the elves had dark hair and light complexions, much like his own. Some had light hair in shades of silver, gold or brown. Thankfully, there were no redheaded elves. None reminded him of Maedhros. The elves were all dressed in lavish green cloaks subtly embroidered with the seal of Mithlond on the shoulder. Elrond felt suddenly self-conscious of his worn cloak and bright Edain tunic.

"Elrond is very excited to visit Mithlond and meet other elves." Thainren answered for the distracted boy sitting beside him.

"The High King sent us to escort you." The warrior was saying. "I had wondered why, but now I know. Where is his brother?"

"Are you from Sirion?" The soft tenor was barely audible, but the warrior was heartened by the shy inquiry and immediately responded.

"I am Cirulian of the Teleri." The warrior adopted a tone equally soft and smiled reassuringly. Silver eyes met his fleetingly. They were full of emotions, which in itself signaled that this was yet a young child. The warrior regretted his earlier blunder and sought to make amends. "I never had the pleasure of visiting Sirion. How old are you elfling?"

"I am twenty two." Elrond replied as he drew himself up from his slouched position. He gathered his courage and looked the warrior in the eye.

"Twenty-two! That is indeed young. Yet you are almost as tall as most nearing their majority." He praised gently and was rewarded by Elrond's soft response.

"My brother is taller and broader." Elrond divulged but felt suddenly shy again at the implication that he was different from a 'real' elf. "Did any of our kin escape Sirion? The brother's Feanor refused to tell us."

"There are some refuges from Sirion in Mithlond, though many settle on Balar." The elfling's eyes lit with hope, making the elf captain smile. He offered his hand in friendship to the youth. "Come, if we hurry we can make it back to the city gates by nightfall." The warrior laughed at the elfling, deciding that he did indeed like this peredhel prince.

If they had any conversation on the way to the gates, Elrond could not recall. He was too busy taking in the sights. Exquisite buildings of stone rose out behind the thick, fortified wall. His heart raced with excitement. He could smell the sea! It was a smell that he hadn't experienced in years and it brought happy memories of Sirion to the surface. In his mind, he and Elros raced along the beach and laughed while they jumped in the surf. Their mother sat near watching them with loving eyes. They had only been ten when Maedhros lead his forces in an attack on Sirion. They were too young to hold a sword, too young to defend their Mother. The guards watched the elfling with curiosity. The boy was nearly full-grown in stature, but very thin. His bright eyes coupled with his inability to shield his emotions clearly marked him as young indeed. Word of their arrival had been sent to the palace and the guards escorted Thainren and a few of the more prominent dwarven representatives to the King, while the remainder of the artisans and craftsmen were shown to their quarters. Thainren smiled at the young one, so clearly lost in his thoughts and overwhelmed by the beauty and vastness of the city. He grasped the slim elfling's hand.

"Come little one. I wanted to introduce you to the King." The escort smiled at the dwarf's terms of endearment for the elfling. They lead them through several security checks and finally emerged into a long hallway. Approximately halfway down the hall they were ushered into an elegant reception room with a large conference table. A silver haired elf sporting a long white beard sat patiently at the table and a dark haired elf with a sparkling mithril crown set with rubies walked over to greet them.

"Presenting Elrond Eärendilion." One of the escorts announced. The king smiled at the elfling and the young one bowed deeply.

"My Lord." Elrond stammered. To his shock the King came over and embraced him.

"Elrond! Welcome to Mithlond! I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to see you alive and well. We are kin from afar and your mother Elwing and I were cousins and the friends in her childhood." Gil-Galad turned to the seated elf. "May I introduce you to"

"Cirdan the Shipwright." Stammered the boy in awe. The bearded elf smiled and rose to embrace him. "Welcome home elfling. I see you have studied some history." The dwarf behind them laughed deeply.

"Your majesty, I'm afraid this elfling's thirst for knowledge knows no bounds. He has nearly mastered both Khuzdul as well as Edain dialects and he will forever be known as a friend of the Dwarven kind. I pity whoever you appoint as his tutors as his questions are endless." The dwarf laughed again. "I have promised to teach him more about our stone working."

The King joined in the laughter and ruffled the elfling's hair. "We will keep this elfling busy, I promise you Master Thainren. Come, Elrond, let us show you to your room and Laeste will join you soon to measure you for clothing more appropriate to your station."