Elrohir was skittish.
Erestor had behaved very nicely the past few days, smiling pleasantly at him and his brother. The fact that the smile would turn predatory for just a moment before she looked away let him know that yes, she knew who the package had been from, and no, she had not forgiven. Apparently she was a fan of the 'Let Them Squirm' line of revenge, which contributed vastly to his current state of anxiety. Anything that Erestor was willing to wait for was big.
Elladan had taken to checking around corners before turning them, and twitched at the slightest sound. There had been several false alarms, water pitchers left around their quarters randomly, tea readily available anywhere they went, and items missing and then found the next day. Elladan nearly shot out of his skin the other day upon discovering hot tea next to his bed upon waking, coupled with his favorite morning pastries gleaming treacherously upon the plate.
"It may not be Her doing, Elladan," Elrohir tried to reassure. His older brother was having none of it.
"Elrohir, I realize how hard it is being the younger, less intelligent, and less handsome part of this duo, but surely even you recognize what a foolish statement that was." Elrohir merely threw a pillow in response, and went to prepare for the day. Elladan decided that discretion was the better part of valor and left the temptation where it lay, beating his brother to their favorite pair of boots (neither one remembered whose shoes they were supposed to be, only that they were the best) and smirked his way out the door.
Both Elladan and Elrohir, by silent agreement, studiously avoided Erestor. And Glorfindel, just in case. They also saw their father very little, and Lindir, and Melpomaen.
It was rather difficult avoiding so many people, but they would not put it beyond Erestor to involve allies of all shapes and sizes in a mission of revenge. She had an obsessive sort of personality when it came to getting something done. It was a brilliant quality when applied to the business of keeping Imladris together and solving problems, it was terrifying when turned as a weapon against yourself. Elladan and Elrohir decided that it would be prudent and beneficial to hightail it out of Imladris at their earliest convenience, but without alerting Erestor or her possible compatriots to the fact.
Part of this meant leaving at an unexpected time. The twins always left just after first light of dawn, so this time they were leaving in the dead of the afternoon, when the sun was high and all the citizens of this fair valley converged upon Erestor in search of her expertise. It was a well thought out plan, having been in place for centuries. Any and all contingencies were planned for, even if they seemed unlikely. Emergency Evacuation Plan #214 seemed perfect for this situation.
Of course the drawback was that they had to wait until afternoon, and their nerves were on edge as it was. The brothers warily walked through the halls, attempting to look calm and innocent. Erestor was nowhere to be found, which was either wondrous or disastrous news. Carefully, they collected the necessary supplies for their upcoming evasive maneuver. Doing so without elves wondering why was somewhat difficult, but over the years Elladan and Elrohir had gained leeway for their strange actions. It was general consensus that ignorance- or at least plausible deniability- was bliss.
Quietly, they left a note for their father and slipped away. As the Last Homely House slid out of view, they began to relax. Erestor was many things, but omniscient and omnipresent apparently didn't make any appearance on the list. Sharing a look, they both let out a sigh of relief. Perhaps now they could get some rest!
They made good time, but decided to stop just inside of the Imladris border for the night. They could try for distance tomorrow, but the hardest part was over. They were absolutely free!
Eyes- hungrily watching their prey.
Elladan woke first, which disturbed him. Even within the confines of the valley, he and his brother always kept watch. They had agreed on it last night, but there was Elrohir, still walking in dreams. Elladan stood up, intending to stalk over to his brother-
And stepped on a crumpet.
A jelly slathered one, too. He looked around, horrified to discover that nothing of their own supplies remained. His bedroll was worn, and Elrohir's matched, or should have. Instead, he had spent the night on a brand new bedroll, while his brother's was old and patched. Looking down, he tried to scrape the jelly off…not his boot. This was not his boot.
What happened next, dear reader, will be denied by Elladan until after the end of the world: He screamed.
As he screamed, he tried to take the shoe-that-wasn't-his off his foot, only to slip in another jelly crumpet and land on three apple puffs and a small blueberry muffin. He groaned, and finished tugging the shoe off, capping it all by throwing the errant thing at his brother.
Elrohir was rudely awaked when a flying piece of footwear crashed into his conscious and his nose. He startled awake, then wondered why he was startling awake at all. Hadn't he been on watch? A groan from his brother reminded him that the throbbing in his nose was not self induced. Combined with a head that felt strangely light, the sight of Elladan apparently rolling in pastries made him wonder if he'd somehow gotten into the special vintage of wine his father had been gifted from Thranduil.
"Elladan?" He wanted to ask a thousand questions, but wasn't sure exactly where to start. Mysterious pastries? The shoe? Wait…his shoes? Where were his shoes? For that matter...why did his head feel so strange?
"Elladan, what did we eat yesterday?"
"Never trust the cook, brother. NEVER trust the cook," was his only response, which Elladan kept moaning over and over. Elrohir took stock of the situation, and came to the only logical conclusion:
"Erestor got us." Elladan moaned even louder. "Oh, hush up. Look, I realize this is…embarrassing, but we must go back. We return to Imladris, beg for forgiveness, and offer penance. What say you?" The groaning stopped, which seemed like a good sign.
"No! If we give up now, we can never call ourselves elves again. What has she really done so far?" Elladan had recovered himself, and was trying to look fierce, half barefoot and- was that a streak of red in his hair?
"You mean, aside from driving us away from Rivendell, waging a very successful psychological war against us, stalking us across the entire valley, drugging us, switching most- no, make that all of our things, and apparently relieving you of your sanity?" Elladan was not to be chagrined.
"But we can still win this! So far, her revenge has been based on our own reactions. If we take control of the situation, her plan will fall to pieces!" Elrohir had doubts about that. The moment Erestor didn't have a 32nd back up plot was likely the moment the moon fell from the sky.
"Elrohir." With that, Elrohir knew that his brother wasn't going to back down. He knew it was stupid and just wanted to go back and apologize, but he also couldn't let his brother suffer alone.
"Fine," Elrohir huffed.
"With that settled, throw me back the boot, please." Elrohir made to do so, but found himself frowning.
"This is not the same shoe you threw at me."
And indeed it wasn't. Where the other shoe had been a dull brown, this shoe was distinctly black. Elladan looked shaken, but still determined.
"All right then, throw me back a shoe. We start now, by refusing to be…"
"Same thing here."
"I do not recall asking your opinion, brother. So! Let us think. Perhaps we shall not leave Imladris after all, but instead, I propose a nice nature hike."
Elladan thought this was rather brilliant, personally. He could tell that Elrohir was something less than ebullient at the prospect of staying and trying to beat Erestor at her…well, technically theirgame, but mere semantics.
The reader may wish to know why exactly apologizing was not the plan from the start, before the strudel stalking and the like started. Aside from plot convenience, the answer is easy: this is a contest of both wit and will. To apologize would be to admit defeat, especially considering that Erestor has now implicitly agreed to the terms of war by striking back.
Returning now to our hapless sons of Elrond:
"Elladan, why exactly are we going on a nature hike? I outgrew them at twelve, and you and thirty-two. Aside from that, we have been walking since we woke up, over eight hours ago. What are you planning, and why does it not involve going home in time for dinner?" Elladan gave a superior smirk to his brother, who felt the dread in his stomach adopt an entire pack of rabid rabbits.
"Because. It is part of the plan."
"You actually have a plan?"
"I always have a plan."
"Two words, brother: Troll Bait."
"That does not count."
"Yes, it does. That was not a plan, that was an accident."
"A well planned accident."
"Taking advantage of a troll's natural stupidity at the last moment does not count as well planned in any part of Middle Earth, except in the area between your ears where one is generally mean to have a brain." Usually, Elrohir was much nicer. When he wakes up to a boot-induced broken nose, a brother whose sanity is rapidly declining, and a pink stripe through his hair and somehow painted on his fingernails, well. That would test anyone's good nature. Elladan still wasn't noticing, though.
"As you wish, brother. But suffice it to say that I do indeed have a most brilliant plan in the works, fear not!"
Whether it was a good plan or indeed, even a plan at all, no one ever knew. For at that exact moment, the willow they had been passing came to life and grabbed them both by the shoes, throwing them into a small stream, one of the tributaries that fed the Anduin.
"Elladaaaaaaa!" Was all Elrohir had time to say before his spontaneous dunking. It was barely waist high, but incredibly cold. To add insult to injury, he was pelted with his formerly dry socks, which of course bounced off and fell into the stream. He managed to catch one pair, only to discover that the pair did not match. Clutching his one dry treasure and fishing out the others he could reach, Elrohir reached the bank. He could almost feel the predatory gaze from somewhere above, but couldn't pinpoint it with any assurance of accuracy.
He turned to glare at his brother, before making the somewhat distressing discovery that the colour in their hair was apparently not waterproof. Instead of just one stripe, Elladan's hair now left an imprint from where it touched the other strands. When Elladan shoved the wet pieces out of his face, red remained on his cheek and hands. Elrohir immediately used a wet sock to blot out his own pink touches. Elladan looked puzzled at first, then horrified as he saw his hand.
"Oh, yrch #*$#!"
"Elladan." Elrohir knew it was smarting his brothers pride, but he was tired.
"For over a MONTH I have been living in constant suspension. Glorfindel has been tanning my hide during every weapons training session, and I can never find what I need when I need it because someone or even something has moved it since I saw it last. Tea and pastries are following me everywhere I go. I have not had anything sweet since this whole thing began. Or TEA. I am wet, dyed, my nose is broken, and I am recovering from Valar know what sleeping drug. I am tired, and you know that father will be upset with us if we miss this rather important meeting with the ambassadors from I-cannot-even-remember-where. Just admit it! She besieged us in our own house, and she won. Just say the words: I was wrong." Elrohir turned away from his brother and shouted at the trees.
"WE SURRENDER!" Elladan hesitated a moment, but then a bird flew overhead and, screeching, began pecking at his head.
"Fine! FINE! WE SURRENDER! WE BOTH SURRENDER!"
There was quiet for a moment, before their packs fell out of the tree above them. Pinned to Elrohir's was a note:
Dearest Elladan and Elrohir,
Next time you feel like starting a contest, try to ensure you are not massively out-classed. Your surrender is noted. Please return home and direct your immediate apologies to Erestor, which will indicate a cessation of hostilities between our two warring parties.
P.S. Perhaps I should warn you, I will not take any return of hostilities kindly. I will not threaten, merely promise an experience unlike any other should any attempt be made to prank myself or Glorfindel. E.