Elladan dangled his legs off the rock, feeling his legs hitting up against the stone. He looked at his bare feet, stained with mud.
Elrohir cracked open his eye and looked at him, raising his head a few inches from the cradle of his hands clasped behind him on the rock.
“What is the matter with you?” he asked drowsily.
The sun shone down on the rock, bathing it in warm light, and giving Elrohir an inviting napping place.
“I wonder if Legolas is all right,” Elladan volunteered. “Ever since Harune hustled us out of the palace, I have been wondering.”
Elrohir stretched and yawned. “I know. The mud on your face proves you paid no attention to our wrestling. A standing shame.”
Elladan twisted to frown at him.
“We will have to return home eventually,” Elrohir said suddenly. He sat up as though the thought was an arrow to him. “And leave this happy place.”
“I wish you would not let such depression fall past your lips,” Elladan admonished.
“But we have been here many weeks now,” Elrohir said, rolling to put his head in Elladan’s lap. “And I know soon a letter will arrive ordering us home. And, you know?”
“Hmm?” said Elladan.
“I am not looking forward to it.”
Elladan sighed and dropped his hand. “Me neither. Let us enjoy the last weeks of our time here.”
“I will be trying,” Elrohir said. He yawned. “I feel sleepy after our wrestle. Shall we lie down and take a short snooze? It is not dinner time for a while yet, and my legs could not carry me home without a short rest.”
Elladan pushed Elrohir’s head off his lap and flopped down beside him. He folded his hands on his chest and stared up at the sky. His hair mingled with Elrohir’s, the same tawny color until the singing birds, and the voice of the trees faded into a dream.
Hours later, in the dead of night, when howling wolves had replaced the bird song, and the wind blew cold, bobbing lanterns lit the night, flitting through the trees, as their bearers walked, calling aloud the names of two elflings their hearts knew worry for and were lost.
Elladan awoke with a jerk as a hand shook him and sat up with a start, peering into the relieved and worried eyes of Esrestil.
“Thank the valar!” the warrior exclaimed. He grabbed Elladan by the arm and pulled him off the rock, treating Elrohir to similar treatment. “Valar knows what I would have done if you were lost or dead, or dying! Valar knows what your father would have done to me!”
Elrohir cringed. Esrestil was angry.
“Follow me home,” Esrestil ordered, holding the lantern to light his way while the Mirkwood scouts milled around him. “Thranduil and Harune have been worried sick! They will not be happy at all.”
Elrohir closed his eyes and breathed out a hard breath through his nose. He and his twin followed Esrestil home.
Thranduil and Harune both descended upon the elflings as soon as Esrestil pushed them through the living room door. Legolas and Landion looked up sleepily from the confines of the sofa, rubbing their eyes.
“Good trees above, I was afraid something had happened to you,” Thranduil said, as he and Harune knelt to hug the twins. “After what happened to Legolas, I feared bullies might have beset you.”
“Are we—are we to be punished?” Elrohir asked, his head resting on Thranduil’s shoulder.
“You deserve it!” Esrestil said from the doorway.
Thranduil glared at him. “I will not stand that kind of tone being used with elflings! No one deserves to be punished over this! We were worried, but that is no reason to lay down punishment.”
Elrohir’s breath of relief ruffled his hair.
“However, Elladan and Elrohir, I will tell you both to please come home before dark in the future,” Thranduil continued. “I am sure there is a reasonable explanation for this time, but we were worried about you. There are wild animals in the forest.”
“We will remember,” Elrohir assured him. “We fell asleep, tired from our wrestle, and when we awoke . . .”
“Come home to take your naps in the future,” Thranduil said, giving his arm a squeeze. “Or it will be the ever vigilant scouts, who need their sleep to, who will get no rest looking for you.”
Elrohir’s head drooped in shame. “Sorry.”
Thranduil patted his hot cheek and stood up. “It is all right, Elrohir. Come up to bed; Galion will bring you some dinner.”
Esrestil frowned hard at the twins as they passed, clearly thinking their punishment should be more severe then a short reprimand, but both twins preferred Thranduil’s methods to their fathers. They went away with a feeling of guilt and regret, but without the stinging pain in their backsides and the hate in their hearts for their father’s cruelty.