Elrohir paused, his hand shoving Elladan back, his hair yanked to a painful angle by his twin, and looked at the sun. It was sinking down below the rim of the valley high above, the last rays sending out golden light.
“We should go home,” he said.
Elladan let go of his hair and broke free of the wrestling embrace. He looked down at his house below, at the bottom of the sloping hill.
“Yes, he said. “What were we fighting about anyway?”
“You took my red pencil,” Elrohir answered.
“If I have got it, I have no idea where it is now,” Elladan admitted.
“You owe me one red pencil out of your set then,” Elrohir said. “Race you home!”
“No fair! You had a head start!” Elladan shrieked as he raced after his fleeing twin.
Laughing and grinning, out of breath and ruffled by wind and fighting, the twins arrived home as the last ray of sun disappeared and the world plunged into gloom. Catching their breath, they stumbled across the marble floor and made for the living room.
Elrond looked up from his chair as his sons tumbled into the room, gasping and grinning.
“I suppose I won,” Elrohir said. He grinned at his father. “Is dinner ready yet?”
“Dinner,” said Elrond, putting down his book, “Was over an hour ago. Your mother has gone to bed as she is feeling unusually tired, and I stayed up to wait for you. Where have you been?”
“We were out on the hills,” Elladan said. “We were playing. And we forgot about the . . . ah . . . time.”
“And dinner,” Elrohir mumbled. “Sorry.”
“It is easy to forget,” Elrond agreed. “That is why I am going to give you some motivation to remember.”
Elladan let out a long breath and his shoulders slumped. The playful and spirited fight on the hills seemed a long way away now. As did the sun. He saw Elrohir shift before him as Elrond crossed to the bookcase, the bearer of the awful instrument of punishment. Its purity as a bearer of knowledge was lost with the stain of the strap Elrond now took down.
“You first, Elladan,” he said. “Come here.”
“I-I will take my punishment first,” Elrohir said, stepping forward, thinking of the whipping Elladan had received for his behavior at the dinner table a few nights ago.
“I did not call you,” Elrond replied, his voice cool but with enough venom in it to send Elrohir right back to his previous position.
Elladan slumped forward until he was standing in front of his father. It was worst when one of the twins had to watch the other suffer. He clenched his hands at his side.
“I am glad you were enjoying yourself,” Elrond said. “But dinner time is an important part of the family schedule. You both disrupted it by not respecting the rules and coming home in time. I cannot allow that. This will help you remember next time.”
Elrohir turned his face away as he heard the horrible swish of the strap and the impact of it hitting Elladan. A few tears pricked his eyes and the twenty seconds seemed to drag on forever. He looked up as Elrond called his name and went to take his punishment without voicing the fury within him.
“You may both go up to your rooms,” Elrond said, lowering the strap. “I will have dinner delivered to you there.”
“Yes, ada,” Elrohir said. He took Elladan’s hand, feeling a tremor run through his twin and into him, and retreated as Elrond put the strap away.
“I hate this!” Elladan cried in the confines of their room. “I hate him! I hate this! I want to fight back; I want to tell him how unfair this is! It is wrong and cruel and it hurts! I hate seeing the marks on your body! You hate seeing them on mine!”
Elrohir watched Elladan pace the floor, his hands fists in front of him.
“I wish I could rip out his hair and take the strap to him!” Elladan concluded bitterly, and sat down hard on the floor.
“We are too small,” Elrohir said. “And by the time we are big enough to tell him what we think, he would have stopped beating us.”
“Life is a nightmare!” Elladan said. “I wish I had been born into another family! A family that did not believe in this!”
“Like Wan,” Elrohir agreed.
Elladan sighed as he thought of their friend. “Yes . . . his punishments are not violent and they do not involve people who are supposed to love you hitting you.”
The twins fell into silence as the door opened and a servant delivered two trays to the small table before he departed. Elrohir sat down to eat with his brother.
“The older we grow, the worst ada is,” Elladan said gloomily, poking at his food. “When we were little, he turned us over his knee and spanked us. Now he whips us!”
Elrohir stared at his plate, the memories making his appetite flee. “And when we cried because it hurt, he told us to grow up.”
Elladan took his plate to the window and scraped the food out to the mercy of the long fall below. He took Elrohir’s plate and completed the action, not ready to stand the bombardment of questions Elrond would demand answers to if their plates were found untouched. They could not exactly say, “We lost our appetite thinking of your beastly cruelty!”
Elrohir reached for his nightshirt.
“I could use a break from home,” he said. “Anywhere where we can escape ada.”
Elladan leaned his arms on the windowsill. “Me to. But we are stuck here for a long time yet. You know what will happen if we run away.”
“Do you love him?” Elrohir asked.
Elladan looked over his shoulder. “Yes, I do. I love ada with all my heart even though he hits us.”
“He is all we have,” Elrohir agreed. “He looks after us; we have to love him.”
“I try to forget the beatings,” Elladan said sleepily, “Thinking about them is confusing. He says he loves us but how can it be true?”