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‘Watch,’ Elladan said softly.
His brother lifted an eyebrow in imitation of their adar, but obligingly joined his twin in peering over the beflowered balcony.
In the garden below, a small figure issued orders to a series of attentive wooden figures, moving them to take up different positions in what appeared to be a frequently replayed battle scene.
‘What is it?’ Elrohir asked. ‘Estel has been winning wooden wars since he could walk – and his warriors have been just as regularly revived to fight again another day.’ A tinge of sadness darkened his tone – he and his brother knew only too well that real battles had a way of turning on those who entered into them. They were only home now because they had arrived overnight with two gravely-injured Rangers in desperate need of what care their adar had been able to offer – one of whom lingered between life and death, while the other had lost half his sword arm.
‘But see how he has set them out.’ Elladan was intrigued. ‘If he organised flesh and blood warriors like that, he would stand a fair chance of bringing them off unscathed.’
Elrohir leaned on the rail and looked down at the boy sprawled on his stomach on the grass, one leg kicking rhythmically at the air as he moved his mounted warriors forward. ‘It is just chance.’ He dismissed the strategist below them. ‘He is far too young to understand the placement of troops.’
‘A pincer movement,’ Elladan observed. ‘Cutting off the retreat of his toy wolves and leaving them with nowhere to run – except into the path of his hidden archers.’
‘He must have been enduring Erestor’s lengthy lessons on the First Age.’ Elrohir watched the boy affectionately. ‘He listens better than we ever did.’
‘He does not have the distractions,’ his brother declared, an expression of excessive virtue on his face. ‘I was always faced with the presence of a fellow student who would have preferred to be in the stables.’
‘That must have been it,’ Elrohir said dryly. ‘And there was I thinking it was I who was led astray by someone who was desperate to escape to the training field.’ He continued to watch the oblivious child. ‘Although I do not recall Erestor indulging us with descriptions of battle tactics. Such lessons came from Glorfindel – and much later. Once we were already beginning to learn that there was more to war than the display of individual skill.’
The child began to gather up his fallen warriors, putting some to one side and lining the others up as if to await the services of the healers.
Elladan subdued a snort of amusement. ‘He is already thinking of the aftermath, as well. I think we need to go and divert him, my brother, before he makes us look any slower at picking up the subtleties of command.’
‘He is growing quickly.’ The mournful tone returned to his brother’s voice. ‘Soon, we will be drilling him in swordplay and teaching him the skills he will need to survive the wild. Childhood is short – and his is half spent.’
His twin glanced at him. ‘He has a good few years yet before Adar will count him grown – and his Naneth will not send him out into the world until he is ready.’ He rested a comforting hand on Elrohir’s arm. ‘He will have time to play.’
‘He is alone too much.’
Elladan grinned. ‘Well – that we can solve.’ He leaned over the balcony and whistled. ‘Hey there – commander!’
The child below them twisted, throwing out a hand to support himself as he sat on the uncomplaining injured warriors, and wincing even as a broad grin spread across his face.
‘Elladan!’ he whooped. ‘Elrohir! I did not know you were home.’
‘Home and hungry,’ Elrohir said. ‘Meet you in the kitchens? See if you can persuade Iavas to liberate some of her honey cakes in celebration of our arrival!’
‘Then we will kidnap you – and carry you off before Erestor demands your presence in the schoolroom,’ Elladan added. ‘We need a day away from duty – and you are more than welcome to join us.’
Estel’s face fell. ‘But would not that be … be irresponsible-and-discourteous?’ He combined the words into a declaration that was clearly an echo from more adult lips. ‘Nana says …’
‘Nanas always say,’ Elladan informed him. ‘But, if we were perfect already, what work would they have to do to improve us?’
Elrohir slapped at his brother’s arm. ‘I will beg you off for the day,’ he assured the boy. ‘Education does not always require time spent in a schoolroom – some of the best lessons are learned elsewhere. Erestor will … humour us!’ He cast a grinning glance at his brother and muttered, ‘At a cost.’
‘He will relish having some time to himself,’ Elladan declared. ‘He might even be grateful – trying to educate the young must be a rather … wearing experience at best.’
‘Pack away your warriors, Estel,’ Elrohir advised, ‘and then go and charm Iavas into providing a picnic. We will spend the day in the woods – while Elladan teaches you everything he knows about tracking.’ He raised an eyebrow at Elladan as Estel scooped his toys into his kilted-up tunic and headed hastily for the house. ‘Which should not take long,’ he murmured provocatively and ducked expertly to avoid his brother’s retaliation. ‘Come on,’ he said more buoyantly. ‘I will deal with Erestor if you will negotiate with Gilraen. Let us spend a day in search of our inner elfling!’
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