The fiery, copper tones of Anar's departure from the sky blended seamlessly with terrible anguished flames which licked at the remainder of Sirion's structures. The fertile soil ran crimson with tastes of both Eldar and Adan blood spilt by the dreaded hand of the furious Feanorians and their allies. Beyond the visible evidence of the kin-slaying carnage, a trio of hastily moving elves impatiently hacked their way through the undergrowth toward a hidden glade. Duilach, captain of the guard, led his commanders with the proud, bold steps of a victor. The day had been long, and the battle harder than expected, and in the end the Sons of Feanor had been reduced from four to merely a pair.
Most sorrowfully still, the Silmaril was now eternally beyond their grasp. I pray this small token of success may bring some joy to my lords' hearts, the captain earnestly thought. "'Tis only a few moments more," he encouraged, clearing a path with his sword's swift snicks at the ensnaring vegetation. Finally they arrived at the promised clearing, the verdant mossy banks of a small stream punctuated with a tumbling waterfall beyond. The captain stood aside, allowing his lords to pass by as he pointed to his boasted of bounty.
"As I have promised - these unruly colts are the heirs of Beren, to do with as you wish, my lords," Duilach proudly presented.
The two remaining sons of Feanor strode into the glen, standing shoulder to shoulder as they silently studied the tableau before them. The aforementioned twins grunted and called out breathless curses upon their captor, a single, well-built guard who held each of the boys out at arm's length by the scruff of his tunic. The brothers swung precariously at a height above the ground that barely allowed them to brush the soil with tiptoed feet. The more vociferous of the pair froze, staring wide-eyed at the eight-pointed star embroidered in silver on the lords' tunics, then more directly at the ugly, calloused scar of a stump which peeked from the right sleeve of the taller lord's blood-stained shirt. A terrified glimmer of repulsed recognition flashed in the defiant child's eyes before he spat first at the guard holding him, and then in the direction of the new arrivals. "Nossgwarth! Nossdagnir! I would rather die than surrender to the Kin-slayers, especially Maedhros Erchamion himself!"
The ruddy haired elf lord scowled without humor. "Take care whom you disparage with the epithet 'one-handed', scion of Beren."
"Do not take their insults to heart, Russandol," his brother urged. "Although they may wish to seem as adults, there are still but babes, and know nothing of the wider world beyond these woods." He turned his attention to the smug-faced soldier who had led them here from the field of battle. "Their mother has thrown herself into the waves, their father vanished at sea, and the Silmaril is lost forever," Maglor sadly said, his voice a lyrical lament unto itself as he offered the twins a pitied look. "These orphans are of no use to us."
"Mother is not dead," Elros sternly protested. "Lord Ulmo will protect her, as he does our father, and his father before him. You will face their united wrath when Father returns to these shores!"
Maedhros strolled closer to the defiant, fiery-eyed elfling... manling, a wry smile upon his face. He had never understood the Peredhil, who seemed truly neither of their kinds. The children had the delicate details of the Eldar, even down to the fine points of their ears, yet at the very same time the bulk of Adanic children their age. What does Eru make of you, Peredhil, who are neither Firstborn nor Second? "Perhaps your parents are not dead, Child, but your home no longer exists, and you and your brother are truly as orphans."
The eldest son of Feanor watched for a moment as the boys more strenuously struggled against the rough grasp of the sadistically jubilant guard. "Release the children," Maedhros stiffly ordered, his voice void of discernable emotion.
The guard did as he was commanded with a rough shove and a crestfallen expression, obviously disappointed at the loss of his new-found toys. The boys tumbled to their feet, carried by the momentum of their previously vigorous struggle. With what dignity they could muster, the twins rose to their feet, hands brushing their torn and dirt-stained clothes. Desperate surreptitious glances were exchanged as both obviously sized up the possibility of escape and came to the same, silently sorrowful conclusion - they were prisoners as surely as if they were confined in the iron band of Morgoth's mighty crown.
"What would you have me do with them?" Duilach inquired coldly of his lords, disappointed in the lack of enthusiastic recognition of his captured treasure.
Maedhros spun stiffly on his heels to face the captain. "Do? Why must we do anything?"
"Ah, you would leave them here to die on their own," the guard incorrectly surmised.
"They will cause us the least trouble that way."
"In the name of Eru, I will not have the blood of more infants on my hands!" the fiery, russet-haired Maedhros roared. He glanced at his brother, who had protectively put himself between the boys and Duilach as a shield. Clearly the burden of innocent blood shed in the past still haunted Maglor's thoughts as heavily as it did his own. "Did we learn nothing in the defeat of Dior? We will give to them the same choice we offer the others of this land - to freely join our people without retribution. We came seeking only the return of what is rightfully ours - the Silmaril. It is not our wish to cause the death of any save those who would directly stand between us and our property."
"'Tis 'our' property," the fiery twin bitterly spat. "Beren, our father's grandsire, paid for it with his very life."
"As have all of the sons of Feanor save my brother and myself," Maedhros protested.
"'Tis two remaining Feanorians too many," came the insolent retort.
Sager thoughts obviously tamed the tongue of the more silent twin. "You will not kill all our people?" he inquired incredulously, hope rising in his voice and his keen eyes. Maglor turned and faced the child, his expression a mirror of pain as deep as Morgoth's dungeons. "What manner of monsters has your mother painted us to be, Young One?"
"The kind who would curse Lady Elbereth and kill maidens and children over a necklace!"
Maedhros ignored the fierce-tempered twin's emotional outburst, instead turning his attention to the obviously more even-tempered of the two. This one is more calculating still, he surmised, warily studying the intense scrutiny with which he was being observed. "What is your name, Quiet One?"
"Elrond," the boy calmly replied.
"I am Elros," the other twin swiftly added without hesitation, "the elder of Earendil's heirs."
"I see your mother understood your temperaments well when she bestowed those names,"
Maglor humorously noted. "This one has the solid stillness of rock, while the other has the hasty and reckless disposition of the sea."
"My mother was proud of our new home by Lord Ulmo's mighty waves," Elros protested with much sincere insult. "That is why she gifted her firstborn with their name."
"And her second born was named as such in honor of the great starry Menelthrond of her birthplace," Maedhros correctly surmised. "I have seen it with mine own eyes."
"When last you spilled the blood of my family," Elros spat.
"If your mother, and her father before her, had willingly returned what was not theirs to hold, there would have been no trouble, and certainly no blood lost - neither of your people nor ours," Maglor tried in vain to explain. "You are not the only ones to have suffered an egregious loss this day, Gwanunig. My twin brothers lie dead upon the very shores from which your mother flung herself into Ulmo's furious waves."
"You would have us grieve them, after all you have done to our family?" Elros laughed haughtily, his pain an unignorable refrain.
"We all have reason to grieve, Little Ones," Maglor soothed, reaching out a hand to lay upon Elrond's shoulder. Not surprisingly the boy shrank away, closer to the safety of his brother's familiar side. The fingers closed in on emptiness, then were retracted in guilty silence. "One pair of twins left life this day. I am in no rush to see another join in their fate."
Maedhros knew they could hardly explain their actions to frightened children who had just lost the only parent they had ever known, especially when the Noldor knew well that much of what he and his brothers had done in the name of the accursed oath was utterly indefensible. "Night draws near, and you are not dressed for the chill of evening," he gently explained. He pulled the cloak from his shoulders and tried to wrap it around one of the twins, but the child shrugged out of it and allowed it to fall to the ground as if it burned him like fire. "If you prefer to have your teeth chatter, I will not stop you," he laughed heartily.
Elros stared defiantly at Maedhros for a moment, then glanced at his brother, who had reluctantly accepted a cloak from Maglor. With a loud harrumph, he likewise accepted the warm outer garment Maedhros offered, shaking it out with exaggerated disdain before allowing it to touch his flesh.
Laughing at the final, defiant gesture, Maedhros felt his humor return for the first time that day. "Come, Makalaure, let us take our new charges back to the warmth of the fire and the comfort of a well-earned meal."
Elrond reluctantly allowed the shorter of the Feanorians to gently grasp his shoulder and direct him out of the glade, back toward whatever burned-out husk remained of the only home he had ever known. As they silently marched through the thick undergrowth, the glint of Ithil's clear sheen off steel caught his eye. Jerking his head in the direction of that hopeful sign, the breath was whisked from his breast in silent jubilation. There, beyond the path, safely hidden among the tall, leaf-burdened trees, a familiar face watched the troop with keen elvish eyes. It was Oropher, one of the Doriathians, his blade drawn and tightly grasped by his side. Elrond knew well that this particular exile from his maternal grandsire's home felt surprisingly little loyalty to the House of Earendil, for reasons he could never discern, save one muttered comment overhead that Oropher felt the Peredhil were little better than the Naugol and the Noldor. Yet all that pettiness would surely be cast aside now.
A flame of brilliant hope flickered in Elrond's eyes, then was cruelly extinguished just as swiftly. The twin locked eyes with his false savior, only to have his pleading gaze answered with a silent, sick smirk of satisfaction before the traitor turned away with purpose and stole away into the increasing anonymity of night.
"What is it, brother?" Elros whispered curiously to his noticeably crestfallen twin.
"We are lost," Elrond whispered forlornly. "Utterly lost."
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