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We returned to the camp with sunrise, even as Maedhros had said. The first rays of the Day-star were slanting through the sparse woodland, dewdrops glittered in the grass, and the canopies above our heads were ringing with bird voices greeting the new day. The air was already warm now, and it would grow still warmer during the day; the high summer was reigning in the land of Arvernien.
“Make ready; we shall depart shortly,” said my brother as we entered the camp. Then he turned towards me. “Are you still certain of what you proposed?”
“I am.” I met his gaze unwavering.
Maedhros merely nodded, then went to gather his belongings. I turned towards the fireplace and the children and realized with a sinking heart that the convincing may take far more effort than I thought it would.
The boys were awake. Elrond, knees drawn up to his chin, was sobbing quietly. Elros was holding his brother’s hand to comfort him, but the gleam in his eyes told me that he was himself close to tears.
“What is wrong, little one?”
At the sound of my voice Elrond merely snivelled, but his brother raised his head towards me.
“Elrond had a bad dream,” he said quietly. “But he would not tell.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Elrond.” I knelt beside them. “What did you dream about?”
He raised his tear-streaked face but did not reply.
“Come, little one, you can tell me. You know, the bad dreams should be told, then they lose their power.”
“In truth?” A whisper, one hardly to be heard.
“In truth.” I nodded.
“There… there was that cave again…” He sniffed and brushed his hand over his face. “It was cold and dark. None came after us. Then the water…” His lip trembled. “The water rose, it was all over the place, and Elros fell in. I reached, but the Sea carried him away!” Tears welled in his eyes again. “The Sea carried him away, and I knew that I would never ever see him again!”
“Elrond, it was just a dream.” I embraced the boy, and he hid his face on my chest, sobbing quietly. “It was just a bad dream. You are no longer in that cave, and your brother is beside you. You were very frightened yesterday, that is why that dream came to you. But you need not be afraid any longer. You are safe now.”
The sobbing slowly quieted. At length Elrond raised his head from my shoulder. I smiled encouragingly, or so I hoped.
“You see, it was only a dream. No dark, cold caves here. You are in the woods under sunlight. And Elros is here too. Nothing bad will happen to you, we will take care of that.”
“Yes, uncle,” he replied quietly, looking up at me with solemn grey eyes.
“I will never leave you, Elrond.” Elros squeezed his brother’s hand. “And our uncles will protect us and save us if we get lost. True, uncle Maglor?”
“True.” I smiled, and if my smile was forced, they did not notice that.
“Good.” Elrond smiled too, brushing away the last tears. “But, uncle, can we now go back home to Naneth?”
I froze. This was the question I had been dreading. But there was no avoiding the reply.
“Yes, your Naneth. We should speak of that now, even as my brother promised yesterday.” I looked around briefly and saw Maedhros watching us, but as soon as he met my gaze, he averted his eyes. Certain that I would receive no help from him, I turned back towards the children who were eyeing me expectantly. “You see, your Naneth…” My voice broke. “Your Naneth, she… She had to leave.”
“Leave?” gasped Elros. They both stared at me with wide, terrified eyes. “Naneth… left?”
“Yes, she left. She…” I fell silent. I could not force myself to tell more lies.
“Did she… did she go to look for Ada?” Elrond whispered, eyes brimming with tears.
I nodded wordlessly, despising myself for clinging to the escape that the boy’s words offered.
“But why did she leave us here?” Now Elros was whimpering. “Why did she not take us with her? Why?” In a while, he was sobbing loudly.
“Because… you are too little for a journey like that. For a sea journey.” Disgusted at myself, I was searching for words. “The Sea… it is too wide and too dangerous for little boys. And therefore… therefore, you must stay. You must stay and wait for your Nana and Ada to return.” I fell silent, wishing that the land beneath my feet would open and swallow me. This deceit was as evil as the bloodshed yesterday, maybe even more so.
After a while, a quiet question interrupted the children’s sobs and my miserable thoughts. “Are we to stay with you, uncle?”
I looked at the grief-stricken faces. I had to take this chance to persuade them now. I had to. Still, I hesitated. Doubt was gnawing at me. What if I was wrong? What if our decision will only bring forth new evil? But the thought of the burning city, of blood-stained pavestones in the streets, the thought that these children should see all that, that this horror should be added to the sorrow they already carried… That thought terrified me even more. And, I admitted to myself in shame yet truthfully, I was not ready to embrace death, even though I deemed it to be a just punishment for my crimes. But I did not want to die. Unlike my brother, I still cared for my worthless life. A little. And I decided to keep to the course I had devised.
“Yes,” I replied, firmly pushing aside my doubt and my conscience. “You will stay with us, for a time. We shall now travel north, to the place where we live, to the fortress of Himring upon a high hill. It is a beautiful place; you will see. There are other hills around, overgrown with long grass. Many flowers blossom there in summer, and when we reach it, the hillside meadows will all be in full bloom.”
“Is it… is it by the Sea?” Elros sniffed, still looking heartbroken.
“No, little one, the Sea is quite far from Himring. But there are many rivers and lakes with clear water in the hollows of the land amid the hills. And some of the hilltops are overgrown with ancient trees, so large that the canopy stretches to all sides like a roof of a great hall.”
“I will miss the Sea,” the boy whispered, tears sliding down his cheeks.
“The Sea will be here, waiting for you to return. You are leaving it only for a while now. Other places are fair too, and there are many nice things little boys can do there. Like fishing in the rivers. Learning to ride and to shoot with the bow. Would you like that?”
“Maybe.” A tiny spark of curiosity appeared in his eyes. “Fishing sounds nice.”
“Perhaps this will not be so bad.” Elrond looked up bravely, his tears drying. He squeezed his brother’s hand, comforting him. “And maybe Nana and Ada will return very soon, and then we can go back at once! I am anyway afraid of the Sea when they are not near,” he softly added, looking almost reconciled with the thought of leaving.
“Very well,” Elros replied quietly, brushing his hand over his eyes. “But we will go back as soon as they return.”
“Certainly, Elros.” I sighed, another sharp stab of guilt in my heart. “You will go back as soon as you can. But come now. You should eat something, and then we must be on our way.”
We rose; the twins slipped their little fingers in my hands, and this gesture of trust made my heart cringe in shame. But the decision was made. I looked around for my brother; he was already saddling his horse and, feeling my gaze, he raised his eyes and regarded us all closely. Then he merely nodded and turned away, back to adjusting the tack. A slow work with one hand, yet I dared not offer him my help.
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