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Elrohir stretched, relishing the softness of the mattress beneath him and the dryness of the warm quilt. The sheets were smooth against his skin and smelled of sunshine and summer days – and wrapped round him like a hug. It was good to be home.
It was even better to be home, listening to the relentless rain beyond the window and knowing that he would not be spending the day on the back of a bad-tempered horse, huddling in a wet cloak with water dripping from the end of his nose.
In fact, he would not mind spending the whole day in this bed.
He allowed himself to sink back into a pleasant haze, awake enough to enjoy the comfort, sleepy enough to find inaction perfectly satisfying.
It was the slight change in air currents that roused him – and that only because he was close enough to the perils of patrol to be alert to possible danger. The door was being pushed open. Slowly and cautiously. Not Elladan – he would not feel any need to respect his brother’s rest. And anyway … He opened his eyes just enough to peer at the figure creeping towards him.
‘You knew it was me!’
The child seemed to feel that the greeting was enough of an invitation and he flung himself trustingly at the recumbent elf. Elrohir dragged his arms free of the confining sheets just in time to prevent a solid bundle of boy impacting with his belly and curled protectively away from the kicking feet.
‘You have grown, little one!’
The child squirmed with cheerful ruthlessness until he had managed to insert himself under the quilt with the top of his head tickling Elrohir’s nose.
‘Should you not be honouring Elladan with equal attention?’
‘He said I should come and see you,’ Estel informed his hero. He dug his elbow in the elf’s ribs as he turned to fix serious eyes on him. ‘He thought you might be lonely.’
Elrohir opened his mouth to offer a suitably expurgated response to his brother’s suggestion – then closed it abruptly. After all, the warmth of the child in his arms and the trust in the young face were worth far more than a few hours of extra rest. ‘Do you know, Estel, I think he was right,’ he said amiably. ‘Even if I did not know it until now.’ He gave the child a hug. ‘What have you been doing while we were away?’
He listened with half an ear to an extended monologue on the activities of this youngest member of Imladris’s household – one that seemed to include a lot of ‘and Glorfindel … and Erestor … and Nana … and Iavas … and Mothwen … and Lindir’. He suddenly focused in on an unexpected addition.
‘What did you say, Estel?’ Elrohir propped himself up on one elbow.
‘A foal, Elrohir,’ the child said, his face glowing. ‘Cerch has had a foal – it is little, but its legs are so long and it can run faster than I can.’
‘Not that – before. Who took you to see the foal?’
The boy sounded completely matter of fact. It would seem that, to him, he had just made a simple statement of fact. Elrohir considered the word. Arathorn, he thought with a pang of grief, would not be taking any part in raising his son – and Gilraen was unlikely ever to marry again, even if she had had any opportunities to meet others of her own kind. And, really, there was only one person in Imladris likely to be given that title by the little fosterling.
‘What does your nana say about your calling Elrond Ada?’ he asked gently.
The child let his dark lashes droop over his eyes and would not answer.
‘You have your own adar, Estel – an adar who would have been very proud of you.’ Elrohir stroked the untidy hair away from the boy’s face and held the child’s cautious look. ‘But he cannot be here – and I do not mind if you want to share my adar. Only we must not hurt your naneth’s feelings.’
‘Nana does not mind,’ Estel said simply. ‘She said my Da would not mind either.’
Elrohir sighed. ‘A boy needs an adar,’ he said.
The bed rocked as the child bounced. ‘Nana said that!’ he announced in surprise.
Elrond’s son leaned back against his pillows. Widows were only too plentiful among the Dúnedain – and many children must grow up without fathers. It did not seem unlikely that they were prepared to share the responsibilities of paternity among those who were available to fulfil them. Even children with living male parents would be more likely to receive their fathering from any available grandsires while their own fathers were on patrol and far from home. If Gilraen could accept this, then so could he and his twin. And it would be good for Elrond. Not to mention amusing to watch.
‘Come,’ he said, making up his mind. ‘Let me get up and we will go and find something to eat. Then you can take me to the stables to see Cerch’s foal – and tell me more of your adventures.’ He grinned. ‘After all, if my adar is to be your adar, that makes you my brother.’
The child’s eyes opened so wide that the whites showed clear round each grey iris. ‘Brothers?’ Estel asked.
‘Brothers,’ Elrohir agreed. ‘You, me and Elladan – we will be a team.’ He offered a big hand to the boy in a grip that just felt – right. ‘Brothers to the end.’
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