(Dedicated to and inspired by Ithil-valon's Estel, who doesn't like baths…)
Elrohir Peredhel jerked awake as the door to his bedroom was opened in haste. A hurried pattering of little feet preceded a loud thump on the floor as the heavy toddler leapt up onto the large, elvish bed.
Smiling inwardly, Elrohir held up his blankets as Estel scrambled to the head of the bed and launched himself into his brother's arms, swiftly slipping down under the covers until the mop of tousled hair had vanished from view all together.
"Shh!" came a loud hiss from the squirming lump on his chest. "The Chief-Goblin is coming!"
"I believe you are right," Elrohir whispered back. "Lie very still, little brother. He may not find you this time."
The 5-year-old bundle of energy wrapped his arms firmly around Elrohir's stomach and waited anxiously, ears perked for the sound of approaching danger. Elrohir went completely still as well, eyes closed, pretending to sleep.
"Good morning, my son," came a muffled voice from above the blankets.
"G'mornin', Ada," Elrohir yawned convincingly. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company this early in the day?" The twin rubbed his eyes and made quite a show of pretending to go back to the land of his dreams
"I was wondering if you could help me find your brother," Elrond asked hopefully, amusement evident in his voice.
"Elladan? When last I saw him, he walked into a room with horses carved on the door, Ada. Just across the hall from here," Elrohir offered, faking another yawn. "But that was last night. I cannot tell you if you will find him there still. You will have to go and see for yourself."
"That must be his bedroom you are speaking of?" Elrond asked, trying not to laugh.
"Yes, Ada. That is the one," Elrohir mumbled, half 'asleep' now.
"That is very helpful of you, my son," Elrond chuckled. "However, this morning I happen to be looking for your other brother."
"You cannot be meaning Estel?" Elrohir opened an eye, feigning disbelief. "Why might you be looking for my sweet, harmless, little brother, Ada? You are not telling me that he has disappeared, are you?"
"Alas, my son," Elrond played along, sounding sorrowful. "I have been looking far and wide for your younger brother, but I cannot seem to find him. He must have found a very good hiding place."
The lump on Elrohir's stomach moved slightly as Estel pressed his hand against his mouth to suppress a giggle.
"Do not be disheartened, Ada," Elrohir consoled. "Estel will not be gone forever. I have it on good authority that Cook is baking blueberry muffins this morning. Estel will return before Glorfindel has eaten them all, I am certain of that."
The lump beneath the blankets bobbed its head, but then the child remembered that he was hiding, and he grew still again.
"Elrohir," Elrond now spoke with concern. "I do believe that you should not be eating any blueberry muffins today, my son."
"No blueberry muffins?" Elrohir threw his father a genuinely puzzled glance. "But Ada, what would make you say such a thing?"
"Have you not noticed?" Elrond asked, feigning disbelief. "Last night you ate so many honey cakes that your belly resembles a gluttonous dwarf, my son!"
Elrohir glanced down at his stomach, studying the protrusion with interest. "Now that you mention it…you are right, Ada!" he exclaimed in surprise. He placed his hands on his 'belly' and patted it lovingly. "Ai! But they were very good honey cakes."
"Indeed," Elrond chortled. "Have you no stomach ache, ion nín?"
"Not at all. I feel fine," the twin assured.
"Are you certain?"
"Most certain, Ada."
Elrond gave his son a reproachful look. "Be that as it may, ion nín, I would rather be safe and examine you. I would hate having to tell your brothers that anything ill befell you because of honey cakes."
"That won't be needed, Ada," Elrohir protested, feeling two little arms tightening around his waist.
But Elrond had already placed his hands on the soft lump and pressed it this way and that, tapping it, massaging it and eventually poking his slender fingers in its sides through the blanket.
A high-pitched squeal sounded from under the covers.
"What was that?" Elrond exclaimed, sounding alarmed. "Elrohir, did you hear that?"
"I did," Elrohir gasped, his face turning pink from his efforts to keep from laughing.
"I think you must have eaten a squirrel," Elrond deduced in his sternest healer's tone. "But I think it is still alive!"
"Alive!" Elrohir cried. "But Ada, if there is a squirrel in my belly, then what will it eat there?"
"How about honey cakes?" came Elladan's dry chuckle from the doorway. The twin was dressed and ready to go to the archery fields, but he would not miss this scene between his father and brothers for all the gold in Arda.
Elrond sent his oldest a mock-glare and turned back to Elrohir. "You have heard your brother. From now on you will have to eat honey cakes to feed the squirrel in your belly. Can you do that?"
Elrohir nodded and grinned.
"But Ada, what if the squirrel gets thirsty in my belly? What will it drink? Do you think it likes wine?"
Now it was Elrond's turn to bite his lip to keep from laughing, because the squirrel in question vehemently shook its head.
"I think squirrels much prefer water, Elrohir," the Elf Lord finally managed.
"No more wine?" Elrohir asked, aghast.
"No wine," Elrond confirmed. "And you will have to eat a good deal of nuts and acorns."
Behind them, Elladan 'coughed' loudly into his sleeve.
"But Ada," Elrohir probed again. "What if the squirrel gets lonely in my belly? Come to think of it, there isn't much room for a squirrel to play inside me, either! What if the squirrel gets bored?"
Underneath the blankets, a five year old was clearly having trouble remaining still any longer. His little fingers impatiently clawed at Elrohir's skin, unwittingly tickling the Elf mercilessly.
"That, my son, is a problem," Elrond admitted, taking the hint. "I would not want any squirrel to feel lonely, or bored, while living in my valley. Not even when it resides in the belly of my son."
"Then what will we do?" Elrohir asked, softly rubbing his brother's back.
"I think we will have to make the squirrel come out," Elrond replied in his most formal voice.
With gentle pressure the Elf Lord once again poked his fingers into the covered shape of his youngest son, then left, then right. "Time to come out, little squirrel!" he coaxed.
The lump began to wiggle from side to side, causing bright smiles to appear on the faces of the Elves in the room.
"Little squirrel?" Elrond called, poking a little harder.
Muffled giggles sounded from underneath the blanket as Elrohir's 'belly' began to wiggle more violently.
"You have to come out now," the Elf Lord sang persistently, stealthily moving in for the 'kill' by pressing his fingers precisely underneath his youngest's lower ribs.
A loud shriek was followed by a lot of movement underneath the blankets until a very tousled head quickly pushed the sheets aside.
"Ada! It's me!" Estel gasped, his face all red and sweaty from his long stay under Elrohir's covers.
"Estel!" Elrond exclaimed. "What are you doing under Elrohir's blankets?"
"I was hiding!" the little boy beamed proudly.
He glanced around at his father and brothers, not releasing his hold on Elrohir's waist.
"I see," Elrond chuckled. "Well, now that I have found you, perhaps you would be willing to come with me to the bathing chamber?"
"No bath!" Estel wailed, for it was precisely for this reason he had been hiding from his Adar.
"We have played long enough, ion nín," Elrond kindly informed his son. "Now it is time for you to wash."
The Elf Lord made to lift his youngest from the bed, but the little Dunadan held on tightly to his brother.
Elladan let out a barking laugh.
Elrond glared at his oldest, chiding him for encouraging the determined tyke, but the damage was already done.
A mischievous smile appeared in the little one's eyes.
"Come now, Estel," Elrond entreated.
"I can't. I am glued to Elrohir," the 5-year-old quipped.
The Lord of Imladris sighed inwardly. He would have to take his youngest to task now. Rather would he have allowed his sweet-natured child to continue his folly, but Estel had to learn when enough was enough.
Elrond had not, however, counted on his sons, who had seen the look in their Adar's eyes, and – as true brothers – decided to come to the rescue.
"Estel is right, Ada," Elrohir commented, trying to pry the toddler off his chest. "He really is glued to me."
Among loud giggles from Estel, Elladan joined the frey and began to pull at the 5-year-old's legs and arms. Both twins gave it their 'best' efforts, panting and screwing up their faces while they pushed and pulled their brother back and forth.
"He is stuck, Ada! Can't you see?" Elladan grinned, pulling Estel from the bed, thus forcing Elrohir to follow.
Elrond inwardly promised his eldest sons a long and stern lecture on child-rearing, but then he smiled benignly.
"I see," he mused, eyes twinkling. "Well, then I am afraid there is nothing for it. If you will follow me?"
He walked from the room and motioned for his sons to come along. Elrohir carried Estel. In the hallway the Elf Lord unsurprisingly pointed them straight into the bathing chamber.
"Since you and Estel are glued together, Elrohir, I am afraid I must ask you to make yourself comfortable in the bathtub. I need to wash your brother."
Seeing the authoritative gleam in their father's eyes, all three brothers Peredhel realized that there was going to be no escape from this verdict. Elladan made no effort to hide his wide grin. Elrohir briefly looked appalled, but then he chuckled. He was rather aware that he had brought this upon himself.
Upon seeing his wooden toy boats floating on the bathwater his eyes found his brother.
"You will be Eärendil and Dan can be Ulmo. I will be Ossë!"
"Ossë is a vassal of Ulmo, and he is master of the seas that wash the shores of Middle-earth. He (...) rejoices in the winds of Manwë; for in storm he delights, and laughs amidst the roaring of waves." (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Valaquenta)