Heart In Chains
“Elros, do not do that. That is mud! Dirt! Do not throw it at… Elrond.” Erestor sighed, finally understanding why Elwing had been so exhausted when Rhoss and he had arrived. The twins seldom slept, were always moving about and Elros especially had a wicked streak. Elrond was the calmer, more serious one. That was probably the very reason why Elros had decided to throw several handfuls of mud at his twin, who until now had put up little to no resistance.
After watching Elwing take care of the twins for some weeks, she judged he was ready to handle them for one hour. She had told him to take them outside and play with them in the gardens, but then Elros had crawled away and found the pool of mud.
“Now I have to clean up your brother.” But he couldn’t let Elros out of sight either. That meant picking up them both and taking them to the bathroom. “Elrond, please behave, whilst I stop your naughty twin.”
Erestor saw the handful of mud that was aimed at his face too late and the cold substance hit him on his right eye. “Elros!” Removing some of the wet earth from his face, his gaze traveled to Elrond, hoping the younger twin didn’t plan on imitating his brother. “You are a good boy,” said Erestor soothingly, seeing Elrond look at Elros in irritation. “At least you are not throwing mud at me.”
“Are they giving you trouble?”
Hearing a strange, male voice, Erestor reacted at once. Determined to protect the twins, he pulled Elrond behind him and picked Elros up from the muddy ground. “Who are you? What are you doing here? What do you want?” He took in the stranger’s appearance, wondering why he hadn’t heard the Elf approach. Maybe it was because he was no longer as tense as he used to be when living with Celegorm and Curufin.
The dark-haired Elf’s probing gaze worried Erestor and he tried to shield the twins from the stranger’s looks. “What do you want?”
“Ada!” Elrond, who had felt scared because Erestor had reacted that oddly, had finally looked up, uttering one of the few words he had already learned. “Ada!” Enthusiastically, he began to half walk, half crawl toward Eärendil.
“You are their father?” Erestor still felt reluctant to trust the stranger, but seeing Elrond’s warm smile and the eagerness with which the Elfling grabbed hold of his father’s leg, he gave in, putting Elros back onto the ground.
“Aye, I am Eärendil,” said the dark-haired Elf. His blue eyes sparkled like clear water and he quickly lifted his sons in his arms. “Ah, I missed the two of you!”
Elros was cooing happily and Elrond tried to get his arms around his father’s neck, failing of course, as his arms were much too short. Erestor found himself smiling, sensing the twins’ pleasure at being reunited with their father.
Elwing, who had seen her husband walk into the gardens, joined them and giggled, seeing the state Erestor and Elrond were in. Smiling at Eärendil, she intertwined their fingers and smoothed back Elros’ tangled hair. “Erestor, why don’t you clean yourself and Elrond up, and then join us for dinner in half an hour?”
Erestor blushed weakly. From the first day on, Elwing had treated him like a friend, maybe even as a younger brother, but never as a servant. He still remembered the first time she had invited him to have dinner with her. He had been rendered speechless and had later apologized for not saying a single word all evening long. The truth was that he had been overwhelmed by her friendliness.
Nodding, he accepted Elrond into his arms when Eärendil handed him the youngest twin. “This won’t take long.” As he turned around to head for the house, he heard Eärendil laughing and Elwing lecturing Elros. /This is a happy family./ And he began to feel part of it.
After sitting Elrond down on the cupboard Erestor took hold of a washing cloth and a bar of soap. After soaking the cloth in tepid water and creating lather, he moved the fabric over Elrond’s face, removing the mud. “Your brother is a lively one.” Elrond looked at him pensively, which made Erestor smile. “I have been called too serious by Rhoss many times, but you are even worse than me. Why are you looking at me like that?”
Elrond cocked his head and looked at him with large, gray eyes. Erestor smiled at the Elfling and continued to clean him up. “There. Fortunately Elros missed your clothes.”
Unexpectedly Elrond raised his right hand and pressed its palm in the mud that still clung to Erestor’s face. “Aiya.” Now he could start over again. “Give me your hand before you spread it all over yourself.”
Catching the Elfling’s gaze, he wondered about the mischief he read in the large gray orbs. “So you did that on purpose! You are a naughty little Elfling and you deserve to be punished!” Punishment always consisted of tickling, raspberries delivered to Elrond’s naked skin and more tickling. One minute later, Elrond was squirming happily, giggling and trying to avoid those tickling hands.
“Elrond likes you,” said Eärendil, who had decided to check on his youngest son. He liked what he was seeing. Elwing had chosen well when she had agreed to taking Erestor in. His wife had just told him how fond she had grown of Erestor and he wanted to thank the younger Elf for looking after the twins. But he wasn’t prepared to see the frightening panic in the younger Elf’s eyes upon addressing him. Apparently Erestor hadn’t heard him enter and felt intimidated.
Erestor reacted instinctively, finding himself in a small room with a much older Elf, and backed away from Eärendil. He had learned the hard way to be cautious around other Elves.
When Eärendil didn’t try to approach, Erestor gathered his courage. “I hope I cleaned him up satisfactorily.” Carefully, he picked up Elrond and then placed the Elfling in Eärendil’s arms.
“You still need to clean up yourself,” said Eärendil, careful to keep his tone warm and gentle. When he had read Maglor’s letter, he had read between the lines, realizing the real reason why Maglor was sending Erestor to live with them. He had met Maglor’s brothers once and had taken an instant dislike to them. “You might want to hurry as Elwing is already setting the table.”
Erestor nodded, feeling shy and hesitant. He hoped Eärendil understood that this wasn’t something personal. He just wasn’t comfortable around male Elves. “I will join you in a moment.”
Eärendil cradled Elrond, who was yawning tiredly, against his chest and left the bathroom, hoping Erestor would quickly join them. Elwing had grown very fond of the younger Elf in a very short time and now Eärendil was curious to find out for himself why Erestor made such excellent company.
In the bathroom, Erestor stared at his reflection in the mirror. “Calm down. Calm down. Eärendil is not like Curufin or Celegorm. He does not mean me any harm… I hope.”
Eärendil sat down at the table, watching Elwing place the twins in their crib. Elrond and Elros weren’t thrilled about that and their tiny fingers clung to her dress, trying to stop her from leaving.
“You need to sleep.” Elwing sat down and resorted to the one thing that could get them to sleep. She sang them a lullaby.
Eärendil got up from the table and went into the kitchen to check on their food. Elwing had never wanted many servants around, preferring to do things herself. But Erestor seemed to have changed her mind and he thanked the younger Elf for that. At times he felt like she was doing too much, and now with the twins around Elwing would exhaust herself.
“What is your impression of Erestor? He has been taking care of the little ones for some weeks now and it looks like they are smitten with him.” Eärendil had waited for Elwing to stop singing and now slung an arm around her waist. Looking into the crib, he found that Elros was asleep, but Elrond wasn’t. But at least the youngest twin was quiet and giving them a moment of peace and quiet.
Elwing, seeing that her husband had already carried the food to the table, seated herself opposite him. After making sure that Erestor was still in the bathroom, she said, “I like him. He has a good heart, is kind and very protective of the twins.” She paused momentarily, giving her husband a thoughtful look. “But I also worry for him. He is easily startled and intimidated, barely shows any initiative and…” She was forced to stop talking when Erestor shyly shuffled over to the table. “Sit down, mellon, and eat with us.”
Eärendil caught the confusion in the younger Elf’s eyes at being called a friend. /I will write Maglor tonight. I have many questions concerning this one./
Erestor gingerly seated himself, occasionally glancing nervously at Eärendil, which the elder Elf found disconcerting. Erestor obviously didn’t feel safe with him close. /Caranthir, Curufin and Celegorm have a reputation for being cruel, rash and aggressive. If he lived with them I understand why he is acting this way and why Maglor asked us to take Erestor in. But I want to know for sure./
“Would you keep an eye on the twins tonight?” It took Eärendil several moments before he finally managed to make eye contact with Erestor. The misery, pain and fear in the large eyes tore at his soul.
“Of course, that is why I am here; to take care of them,” Erestor almost tripped over his own words, rambling in an effort to hide his nervousness.
“Good, for I want to spend the evening with my beautiful wife,” said Eärendil, pleased that Erestor would look after their children. “I am surprised however, that you find the company of two babies satisfactory. Isn’t it about time you took a mate?”
Erestor nearly choked on his vegetables. “Mate?” Open-mouthed, he stared at Eärendil in shock. He had never before thought of finding himself a mate. For too many decades his life had been ruled by Feanor and his menacing sons. What was he supposed to say to that? “I am still too young to bind myself to someone,” Erestor said eventually, hoping Eärendil wouldn’t push the matter.
Eärendil reckoned Erestor was already several hundred years old, and that wasn’t too young to be bonded. But, it was Erestor’s decision eventually. He could merely try to give the younger a nudge in what he considered the right direction.
“We should eat now.” Elwing smiled, a bit embarrassed when her stomach growled. The twins kept her busy, and she had used up her energy reserves.
Erestor looked at the food on his plate. Living near the water meant they ate sea food most of the time, and although he had found it funny tasting in the beginning, he was now getting used to it. He was wondering what they would be eating this time.
Seeing his questioningly expression, Elwing gladly explained. “’Tis trout, Erestor, griddled trout with fresh herbs. Try it, I am sure you will like it.”
Erestor broke off a piece of freshly baked bread, instantly smelling the rosemary she had added to the dough before baking it. Taking his first bite of the trout, his eyes widened when his taste buds tingled and then exploded.
Eärendil couldn’t help finding Erestor’s expression amusing and laughed warmly. Erestor looked like he had never eaten something like this before. He and his wife watched in amusement as Erestor cleaned his plate in minutes. It looked like he was about to *lick* it clean and Eärendil quickly exchanged a look with Elwing. “It seems Erestor is still hungry.”
Elwing smiled, pleased that Erestor was beginning to put some meat on his bones. When the younger Elf had arrived, he had been much too thin for her taste. When she had finished as well, she got up from the table and carried another, slightly larger plate to the table.
Erestor’s toes curled, inhaling the sweet scent. What was it this time?
“Round pastries basted in honey,” said Eärendil, licking his lips. This was one of his favorites.
Elwing placed a pastry on each plate and watched them devour them. She nipped from her glass of wine, once more noticing that Erestor didn’t touch his and preferred water instead. Whenever he looked at the carafe filled with red wine, a frown formed on his brow. /I wonder who drank so much wine that he is wary of it./
“’Tis… delicious,” moaned Erestor in divine pleasure, regretting the fact that delicious was such an inapt way of describing this delight.
“Here, have another one.” Elwing placed a second pasty on his plate, enjoying watching him eat. When Eärendil reached for her hand, she intertwined their fingers again, lovingly rubbing the skin. As Eärendil was away often, she cherished the moments that he was at home. She was already looking forward to walking the gardens with him tonight and maybe he would take her down to the Havens to watch the sunset.
“Aiya, Elros, behave.” Erestor had uncovered their favorite toys once the twins’ minds were set on creating havoc, but Elros’ idea of fun was stealing away his brother’s little boat.
“Mine!” Elrond suddenly lunged for his boat and pulled it out of his twin’s hands.
“Elrond, that is not a nice thing to do.” Erestor sighed, wondering if these two would ever give him a moment’s rest. The twins were never apart, and when they found it necessary they teamed up against him. Erestor had found that Elros was usually the one to instigate some mischief and then Elrond would follow his twin’s lead. “Look, it is an octopus!” The ‘octopus’ was made of soft brown fabric, with eight long legs and a big, bobbing head. It was Elros’ favorite toy.
Elros reached for it, buried his tiny fingers around two legs and then pretended to attack Elrond with it. Elrond shrieked and Erestor quickly provided the youngest twin with his defense. The youngest twin closed his fingers around the blue dolphin, which was slightly larger than his brother’s octopus and a fierce battle between the two toys -- and boys -- erupted.
Erestor leaned back and watched them. They were occupied with their play and he could ‘rest’ for one moment.
Elwing pressed a finger across her lips, signaling for her husband to stop talking.
Eärendil smiled, seeing the twins had fallen asleep in Erestor’s arms. Well, they had obviously exhausted Erestor, and all three of them had fallen asleep on the floor amidst an arena of toys. “I will put them in their crib.”
“Should I wake Erestor?”
“He will wake up when I remove our handfuls from his arms,” said Eärendil knowingly. He could sense the tight bond that was developing between Erestor and his children. It was good to know they were well-cared for during his absence and that Elwing had help raising them.
The moment he removed Elrond from Erestor’s arms, the sleeping Elf stirred, Erestor instinctively tightening his hold on Elros, who was still cradled against his chest.
Eärendil placed Elrond in the crib and then returned to get Elros as well. Erestor’s eyes filled with alertness, and Eärendil could tell the younger Elf was ready to defend the child if necessary. “Peace, ‘tis only I.”
Erestor nodded tiredly. The twins had worn him down. “They are so energetic.”
Elwing giggled, agreeing full-heartedly. “And they will get worse.”
“Aiya, no,” Erestor whispered in mock shock. “They are little monsters.”
“Elros is,” said Eärendil teasingly, “Especially when he is close to any mud!”
Laughing warmly, Erestor felt honored to be part of their little family.
“Elrond? What are you doing here?” Erestor stared at the Elfling in surprise. How had the four year old managed to get out of his crib?
Elrond cocked his head, opened his arms, reached for the side of Erestor’s bed and climbed onto it.
Erestor, afraid that Elrond might fall, quickly gathered the Elfling in his arms. “Pen-neth, you cannot come into my room like that. When your parents notice you are missing, they will panic, and we do not want that.” He planned on taking Elrond back and tucking him in again.
But the youngest twin had different ideas. “Naya,” Elrond mumbled, still struggling to learn to pronounce words. “Staya”
“You cannot stay here, Elrond.” Erestor searched the child’s face, wishing Elrond was old enough to tell him why he had sought him out. “Is it something Elros did?”
Elrond slowly shook his head and then proceeded to snuggle up to Erestor. “Staya.” He hoped he had finally made his point and that the elder Elf understood that he wanted to stay.
But Erestor wasn’t going to give in. “Your Nana and Ada will be upset when they cannot find you. I have to take you back.”
“Naya!” With one hand Elrond clawed at the material of Erestor’s night shirt and fiercely shook his head. Making it even harder for Erestor to lift him, he tightly snatched the sheet in his other hand. “Staya!”
Erestor realized that arguing with a four year old wouldn’t get him anywhere, so he carefully tried to pry Elrond’s fingers loose from the sheet and his night shirt. “You need to sleep in the crib, pen-neth, and not with me.” The piercing look Elrond gave him told him the Elfling didn’t agree.
“Let him stay for the night if his presence does not bother you,” said Eärendil, who was standing in the doorway.
Erestor gasped in surprise and his eyes frantically studied the elder Elf’s face for signs that Eärendil was angry with him, but the twins’ father was smiling instead. “He does not bother me.”
“Elros managed to climb into our bed, snuggling up to his mother. I do not know why they left their crib, or why Elrond sought you out instead, but I am inclined to let him sleep here. I do not want to upset him further by returning him to an empty crib. Elros has a similar hold on my wife and I could not pry him loose either.”
Erestor found he had involuntarily kept his breath during Eärendil’s speech, and now sighed, relieved. Apparently Eärendil approved of Elrond sleeping in his bed tonight and he wasn’t sure how to react to that. He had to admit that he enjoyed cradling Elrond in his arms, but he was just the minder, and not one of the Elfling’s parents. Elrond should have gone to Elwing as well.
“I brought his blanket and one of his toys.” Eärendil quickly scanned Erestor’s rooms with his eyes and felt a bit worried, seeing the younger Elf had added nothing to the room. It was like no one lived here. Didn’t Erestor have any personal belongings?
Erestor gave in. “I will keep an eye on him, but I wonder what happened that the twins went separate ways.”
Eärendil tucked the soft blanket around Elrond’s tiny form and his son immediately pulled it up to his shoulders. “I will allow this once, Elrond, but tomorrow night you have to sleep in the crib with your brother.”
Elrond pouted at first, but then accepted the marvelously colored Wentletrap shell his father gave him. He placed it against his ear and slowly fell asleep, listening to the calming sounds of the sea.
“I do not think he will cause problems now that he is asleep, but taking him back to his crib would wake him again.” Eärendil smiled kindly, seeing the distress -- shock almost, in Erestor’s eyes. “You will get used to them sneaking into your bed. They might not have done it to you before, but my wife and I find them sleeping in between us on a regular base.”
“I will keep the door locked then.” The moment he had spoken the words, Erestor realized he had said the wrong thing – according to Eärendil at least. He could see the disappointment in the other Elf’s eyes, but why was it there? He quickly tried to explain, “Elwing and you are their parents. It is not right that Elrond comes to me instead.”
“Ah, is that it?” Eärendil finally began to understand. “We are not keeping score here, pen-neth. If Elrond prefers you to hold him tonight, I do not feel envious of his choice. He is a child and all children look for love and affection. I watched them when they were around you today. They like you, and Elrond especially is fond of you. Accept and enjoy their affection, Erestor. They give it because they want to, and Elwing and I know they do not love us less for liking you.”
Eärendil’s words slightly reassured Erestor and he felt he had to make some admission of his own. “I… never… I grew up alone. I was not allowed near my mother and… I do not even know if she is still alive. Elros and Elrond remind me of that. I want them to feel loved because I never did, but I do not want to take anything away from you. I feel… torn.”
“Don’t. There is no reason to feel like that. My wife already considers you part of our family and I think you know that as well. You just have a hard time accepting you found a place where you fit in, where you feel welcome and wanted. That will change with time. If my instincts are right, I reckon you never felt loved before and this is a novel experience.”
“Maglor cared about me. He made sure I got away from them… They weren’t kind.”
Eärendil nodded in understanding. “Some of Feanor’s offspring are as ill-tempered as he was.” He slowly walked back to the doorway, knowing Elrond safe and sound asleep. “I am leaving tomorrow and I want to ask you to look after Elwing as well. She tends to overestimate herself and then exhausts herself.”
“I will look after all three of them,” promised Erestor, surprised, but honored, that Eärendil thought he could take care of the sailor’s family. “I won’t disappoint you.”
“I know you won’t.” Eärendil closed the door behind him and returned to their bed, curling protectively around his wife and son, and quickly falling asleep.
Erestor rearranged Elrond in his arms until the small Elfling was perfectly comfortable. Doing something he had never done before, he pressed a chaste kiss on the child’s dark hair. “Sleep tight and may Elbereth grant you pleasant dreams.”
Erestor finally felt no longer alone; like he belonged. Maybe Eärendil was right and had he found the family he had always wanted. Sighing deeply, he already knew he would regret having to fall asleep without Elrond in his arms the next evening.
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