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"Uncle Elrond! Uncle Elrond!" Tindomiel and Atanalcar rushed through the grass, tearing a path in their wake. The tall elf stooped down so that he was eyelevel to them when they nearly ran him over. "Uncle Elrond, Vardamir said me and Atanalcar can't chase those butterflies no more," pouted Tindomiel. "He said we was going to be hit and he would do the hitting if we did it."
"Tindomiel, please, don't shout," Elrond said calmly. "And child, once again, Atanalcar and I, not and me and most definitely not me and," he corrected. Tindomiel made a noise that sounded not unlike a growling dog, and Elrond frowned. "Furthermore, double negatives are not proper. You used can't and no more in a sentence and you can't do that."
"You mean, she can't do that no more," Atanalcar half-babbled, his eyes watching another butterfly flitter closer and closer to them.
"Atanalcar, no!" Vardamir jogged over, his awkward near-teen form taking great loping strides, and easily crossing the distance to his siblings. "I said no, Atanalcar!" shouted Vardamir, his fists balled up as Atanalcar made a swipe for the fluttering creature. Elrond put his hand to one ear and heard the laughter of his brother behind him. Standing up, Elrond tried to manage a smile.
Although twins, the raucous did not so much affect Elros as it did Elrond, nor would anyone have known them to be twins to see them. If anything, one might almost mistake Elros, with his dark close-cut beard and shorter hair, fuller cheeks and slightly crinkling skin to be the father of five and not four, the eldest of which was just now become a man, lean and tall, and with sensitive hearing.
This, however, was not the case, and Elrond waved his free hand in the general direction of the children. "You're the father, I'll leave you to figure it out," he sighed, still cupping his injured ear. His twin, elder by mere minutes, laughed heartily, and leaned forward, his hands propped on his knees. "Vardamir, let them play with the butterflies."
"Vardamir, they are doing no harm."
Vardamir threw his hands in the air. "Fine." He stomped away, eagerly seeking out his other younger brother.
"Come on, Atanalcar, let's catch more butterflies," suggested his sister, pointing to the small creatures flying around.
"Yeah, butterflies sticky," he answered and romped off after her.
Elrond and Elros exchanged glances, trying to make the connection. "Why are the butterflies sticky?" asked Elros, narrowing his eyes.
"Gotchum!" Atanalcar had jumped into the air, and came down with two helpless orange and red wings, trying to beat their way out of his grasp in a most furious manner. "Squashum, squashum!" he screeched with delight.
"-dear," finished Elrond for his brother as they ran over to the youngest of the children. Manwendil beat them, and was trying without success to pry Atanalcar's hands apart.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" he shouted at the little boy, whose jaw was set and mouth was squeezed shut, his hands even more tightly entrapping the remains of the poor animal. "You are bad!" he finally spat out as Elrond pulled him away, and Elros took hold of Atanalcar, who cried out in surprise and tried to squirm away. "You are really, really, really, really bad!" he added, tears starting to fall to the ground.
"Manwendil, you a crybaby," answered Atanalcar, sticking out his tongue. Manwendil's bottom lip quivered, but he proudly stuck out his chin and wiped his nose.
"Am not," he said sternly with a sniffle.
"Too, too, too, too, too!"
"Enough!" Elros punctuated his point with a firm smack on Atanalcar's rear as he held the child's upper arm. Atanalcar half- dodged his father, and let out a grunt of annoyance, followed by a dramatic 'ouch' that earned him a second. "Atanalcar, we do not destroy innocent beings. This includes butterflies."
"Manwendil said bugs have to be squished, and butterflies are bugs, and we was only squishing bugs," piped up Tindomiel.
Elros turned his attention to his daughter. "You were the one to tell him to squish the butterflies?" Tindomiel's face shone with guilt, and she moved her hands around to cover her backside. "That isn't going to save you, little missy. I want you to march right over to the cabin and clean your brother's hands, and yours as well. Then, you both find a corner to stand in and think about what you've done until I get up there. And do not even think of sitting until I arrive – I will know if you have or not," he warned.
Amid fake sobs from both of them, the pair did indeed march up to the cabin. By now, Manwendil was back to only pouting. A little ways off, Vardamir sat half-concealed in the weeds, chewing on a length of straw and watching the scene play out. "Ardi, come over here." Vardamir stood up and walked to his father. "When you see something happening, what are you supposed to do?"
"Come and get you right away," he droned, the straw flopping in his mouth. Elros pulled the offensive bit away, tossing it behind him. "I wasn't the one doing something wrong," Vardamir half- sneered, staring at the bit of straw that was in the grass as a butterfly with blue and gold wings chose to land upon it.
"Vardamir, you're older than they are," sighed Elros. "You're also twice as big, you can't keep telling them not to do things and threatening that you're going to hit them. It is my job to discipline them, and to keep you in line as well."
"So I should just let them keep doing it?"
"No! You should come and get me!" Elros shook his head. "If you get me, then I will tell them not to do it."
"But if it's wrong," countered Vardamir, "then what does it matter if I tell them it's wrong or if you tell them it's wrong?"
"Because I don't want you telling them you're going to hit them!"
"But I don't hit them! You're the one who hits them!"
"No, I spank them, when they need it. I'm their father," replied Elros through clenched teeth. "I'm your father, too, and you're this close to being taken over my knee."
Vardamir opened his mouth to continue, but Manwendil shrugged Elrond's hands from his shoulders and ran to Vardamir. "No, daddy, no, he was only worried about me," he said, flinging his arms around Vardamir's legs. "He didn't do anything wrong, please, daddy, I won't cry about the butterflies anymore, I promise." On the verge of tears, Manwendil kept his word, making a snerking, sniffling noise as he kept himself from crying.
Elros closed his eyes and rubbed the left side of his face, making a circular motion at his temple. "Elrond, I have children for sale, going cheap," he mumbled to his brother. "In fact, if you take these two, I'll throw in the two in the cabin free."
"No thank you," replied Elrond quickly. "I have none now, and prefer it that way."
Elros grinned. "Someday, brother," he said, and turned his attention back to his angsty eldest and anguished second-youngest. "I'm not going to spank Vardamir. I may tan the hides of your brother and sister," he said, looking back in the direction of the log cabin that overlooked the lake, a small hideaway the twins had built for themselves and their families and close friends to use in a quiet, hidden valley.
"That's fine, they deserve it," Manwendil answered. "I would even help."
Even Vardamir couldn't help but smile as Manwendil crushed his face against the legs of his older brother and mumbled that he wouldn't like it, but he would do it if necessary as his father and uncle laughed. "Come on, little man, let us go and see if they have heeded my orders or not." Elros hoisted Manwendil up onto his shoulders and began to walk to the cabin. Elrond and Vardamir followed, with the favorite uncle bumping into his nephew enough times to finally crack a smile, and then a chortle, and finally Vardamir allowed Elrond to sling his arm around the boy's shoulder as they trekked up the slope.
"You know what is worse than a spanking?" asked Manwendil from his high vantage point.
"Not a clue," answered his father. "What's worse than a spanking?"
"To clean out the horse stalls," he answered. "Because it stinks and it's squishy between your toes if you step wrong in the hay."
"I suppose it has nothing to do with it being your chore, does it, clever little man?" asked Elros, glancing up. Manwendil shook his head. "Alright, then, a week of stall cleaning for them, and you can come fishing with Vardamir and Uncle Elrond and I tomorrow while they do it." Manwendil nodded his head twice very prominently.
"Maybe they should both have to milk the cow this week, too," suggested Vardamir hopefully.
"Don't push it," warned Elros. "Be thankful you're not cutting a switch for me right now."
Vardamir shoved his hands into his pockets. "Yes, sir."
"Here, take your brother and get cleaned up. Don't say a word to your brother and sister, either of you," added Elros as he lifted Manwendil down to the ground. His sons nodded and raced to the water pump. "When are you going to get yourself married? I want to see your elflings before I die," said Elros when the children were all in the cabin.
Elrond paled and grabbed hold of Elros' shoulder for support. "Don't say that!" he hissed, as if Death could hear their conversation, but Elros only laughed.
"You are far too dramatic sometimes, dear brother. You should have become an actor and not a potter. I only ask, because it is the truth. You're going to be a father some day; you want to be as much as you pretend you don't."
Elrond closed his eyes despite his desire to roll them. "Not that," he answered flatly. "Don't say... don't talk about-"
"About me, being dead?" Elros put an arm around his younger brother's shoulder when Elrond shivered. "What's so good about all this if you're stuck with it, and nothing else to look forward to?"
"There is Valinor," Elrond reminded him.
Elros frowned distastefully. "I have a greater passion for things, for reaching beyond what is here, to go beyond what was designed for us. The fruit tastes sweeter if you don't know if it is to be your last, the sunsets more vibrant, and love, so much more passionate." Elrond blushed at these words, and Elros chuckled. "I forget - I'm an 'old man', you're still but a young elf, have you even reached your majority?"
"Of course I have," Elrond told him sharply, but with a rueful smile. "You can't goooo," he whined suddenly, throwing his arms around his brother, who did roll his eyes. "I won't know what to do, and who to talk to- how will I survive without you?"
"And you call yourself an elf." Elros pried his twin from him. "You are the silliest, most emotional elf I've ever met."
"I will miss you too, too much."
"Elrond, stop, we've been through this before and I always win."
"I will fade, indeed, I will perish without you!"
"El!" Elros took hold of his brother's shoulders. "El, you're not going to be alone, you're not going to fade or diminish or whatever silly words you've started to come up with for it, you're going to fall in love some day and have kids and a family and you'll be so busy and happy with them and with your pots and bowls and lumps of clay you won't notice I'm gone."
Elrond shook his head adamantly. "I'll remember every day. Every day that you aren't here, I'll be inconsolable."
"Oh, El." Elros sighed and pulled his twin into a bear hug. "You promise me something. That you're going to use your immortality and live every second of it, not for you, but for both of us. There will come a time, long after I have left this world, that I will be forgotten. Forgotten by all, save you. Yes, I'm going to die some day, but that doesn't mean I have to fade away. That choice is up to you."
For a while, Elrond didn't say anything. When he finally stepped back, it was with a long sigh. "How is it that you always manage to win?"
"Eldest brother rights. It's in the rules."
"What rules?" pressed Elrond.
Elros shook his head. "Can't tell you. It's against the rules." He stopped when they reached the door. "What are you going to do with the house when I'm gone?"
"I don't know. Burn it, possibly. It holds many memories." Elrond looked around, taking in the river they had come from, the shabby barn they had built, and the wild growth of raspberries that were snagging their way around the peach trees that haphazardly sprang up here and there. "What do you want me to do with it?"
"Leave it. Bury me here," Elros added quietly. "Plant a garden, bring me here when I am dead. I will write it as a proclamation that you are to take possession of my remains; don't tell anyone where I am. I don't want anything fancy, I don't want a grave that could be robbed. Just here, in the valley."
Elrond swallowed hard and nodded. "Do you want the children to know?"
Elros shook his head. "Just you, El."
The door opened abruptly before Elrond could ask any other questions, and Vardamir, holding Manwendil best he could on his hip, said, "Father, I have come to tell you that my siblings - my other siblings, they both spat in the stew that was set to cook on the hearth. I said nothing to them before I came to get you," he added in a very clear voice.
"Ardi, that's disgusting. Thank you for telling me." Elros ushered his sons into the cabin. "Second thought here, maybe you should burn the cabin," he whispered to Elrond. "If they've spat in the food, I can only imagine what those little beasts have done to the rest of the place."