“Nelyo. Nelyo!” Maglor was kneeling by Caranthir, cradling his head in his lap. When Maedhros approached, he whispered, “He wants to speak with you.”
They hadn't told Caranthir, but they knew – and had no doubt he knew – that he was dying. Maedhros knelt beside him, placing a kiss on his forehead. "Yes, little brother?”
“Dior’s sons,” Caranthir rasped.
“We believe they escaped.”
Caranthir shook his head. Maglor tightened his grip, then stroked his hair. “Shhh. Lie still.”
Ignoring his elder brother Caranthir whispered, “Woods. Took them into the woods.”
“Celegorm’s captain. Revenge.”
Maedhros’ heart stopped. Maglor’s face went white. “Don't worry,” The minstrel whispered. “Nelyo will send someone after them.”
Maedhros shook his head. “No. I will get them myself.”
“No. We need you here. Send someone else.” Maglor met his brother’s eyes, then pointedly looked down to the pale face in his lap.
“Apparently we can't trust our people not to do foolish things.” He ran his hand through Caranthir’s hair, then kissed him gently. “I love you little brother.” He leaned closer, whispering so that Maglor couldn't hear. “Take care of Kano for me.”
Caranthir smiled. “As usual,” he said gruffly. “Can't manage on his own. Ha!”
“Are you taking about me?” Maglor asked. He swatted Caranthir’s shoulder. The injured elf cried out in pain. “Moryo!” Maglor gasped. “I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. Forgive me, please!”
Maedhros hesitated, suddenly unwilling to leave. Caranthir met his eyes, then glanced in the direction of the woods. Realizing he had been given a perfect opportunity to leave he stood and left before he lost to will to be parted from Caranthir.
Ambarussa caught him as he was leaving, staring at him quizzically. “Where are you going?” they asked.
“There is something I must do. Keep your brother calm.”
Maedhros looked over his shoulder, to where Maglor was still apologizing frantically, trembling more than the dying elf in his arms. He looked back to Ambarussa. “Which do you think?”
“That goes without saying.”
“When-“ Maedhros stopped, uncertain of what words to use. ‘When Moryo has died,’ hung on his tongue, but his throat clenched at the thought. “When you have time, find Celegorm’s captain.”
“And do what with him?”
“Take him captive. Tell him to pray those boys are alive.”
“He will know.” Whatever the outcome, he will apologize to them himself.
The lamp barely cut through the gloom of the forest, and it tossed frightening shadows in the trees. “Boys!” Maedhros shouted. “Can anyone hear me?”
The trees were silent, and the animals’ calls told him nothing. “Eluréd? Elurín? Please come out!”
He lowered his lantern, and leaned his head against a tree. “Please?” he whispered. Bitter tears leaked from his eyes, and he sobbed softly, recalling Celegorm’s broken body, and Curufin’s crushed skull. “I am sorry.” He sunk to the ground, sobbing softly.
Maedhros didn't move when the duck waddled up to him, quacking. He didn't move until it latched onto his finger and bit hard. He pulled his hand back, snarling, “I've only got four!”
The bird quacked at him thrice, then waddled away. Maedhros wondered if it was angry that he hadn't brought food for it. Just before it left his sight, it stopped, looked over its shoulder, and quacked twice.
“Sorry. I don't speak duck.”
Looking disgruntled it spread it’s wings, as though preparing for flight. It quacked once, then leapt into the air. Maedhros stood, grabbed his lantern, and – fueled by either insanity or desperation – chased after the duck.
It flew ahead of him, and every time he thought he was about to lose it, it would slow down, and quack, as though scolding him for being too slow. Finally it landed. Winded Maedhros leaned over, panting for breath. “Well?”
The duck led him forward, toward a cliff, and vanished into a gap in the rock. Before Maedhros could followed, a wolf padded past him, and it's narrow eyes watched him intently. Maedhros shivered, and contemplated leaving. Inside the cave, the duck quacked. With one last glance at the wolf, Maedhros dropped to his knees and entered the cave.
His lantern cast a weak light through the cave. The duck was standing in front of him, head cocked, waiting. “Well?”
“Hello?” The small voice, speaking accented Sindarin, made Maedhros turn. Tucked into a small corner he had failed to notice before, two small elves curled together and blinked, as though woken from sleep. Their faces were stained with dried tear tracks.
Unable to believe his eyes, Maedhros stared. “Eluréd? Elurín?”
“Who are you?”
“I heard you were lost. I came to find you.”
“We aren't lost,” one replied.
“We are being punished.”
“What do you mean?” Maedhros asked.
“The man who brought us here said we were in trouble.”
“Well he lied. He was a very wicked man. You have done nothing wrong.
“Really?” one asked. “I thought it was because I didn't eat my vegetables.” He smiled, and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I'm Eluréd.”
“Elurín.” He was softer spoken than his brother, peering at Maedhros from the shadows. Surprisingly, he seemed shy, rather than afraid.
“I'm-“ Maedhros stopped, realizing that it was completely possible that they knew his name. “Maitimo.”
“Maitimo.” Eluréd repeated.
“Yes. Are you cold?”
“No,” Elurín said. “The wolf kept us warm.”
“But we are hungry. Do you have anything for us to eat?”
Maedhros removed pulled metal tin from his belt pouch. Unfortunately, most of the nuts were gone, but he handed the tin with those that removed to Eluréd. He split the nuts into three piles, and, much to Maedhros’ surprise, offered one of the piles to the Feanorian.
“I've already eaten.”
The boys split the nuts between themselves. Maedhros watched them. “We need to leave soon, we aren't safe here.”
“Are you taking us to Nana and Ada?”
“I'm afraid not. I don't know where they are,” he lied. “But I will try and return you to them. Until then I will care for you. I promise.”
The boys pushed their heads together, conversing quietly, weighing their options, pitiful though they were. Stay in the woods to starve, or go with the stranger who had offered them his only food.
Together their heads swiveled to face Maedhros. “We will go with you,” Eluréd said.
Maedhros smiled, glad to let the boys believe they ever had a choice in the matter. He crawled from the cave, and the boys – the duck as well of course – followed him.
In the sunlight their pitiful condition became even more clear. Both were small-framed, with pale faces and hair that only accented the atrocious amount of grime they were covered in; both wore light clothes, fine for in a city, but too thin for out of doors. Both pale faces were stained with tears, Maedhros knelt beside them and pulled a mostly clean handkerchief from his pocket. He reached for them without explanation, wanting to remove the traces of tears, but they pulled away at the sudden movement. The duck quacked and fluffed its wings, clearly a warning.
“I thought you might like to clean your faces.”
Eluréd took the cloth from him, and began rubbing his twin’s face. Then he scrubbed at his own, Maedhros sighed, realizing that it was an almost completely hopeless attempt. “Much better,” he lied. “Shall we return to my people now?” He asked.
“That’s too far,” Elurín whispered. His words, evidently meant for his twin only, were heard by Maedhros nonetheless.
“I could carry you both.”
“Easily.” He stood and rubbed the boys’ heads. “Don't worry, I'll get you to safety.” He looked hopefully at the duck. “I don't suppose you would help, would you?”
It quacked and waddled off. Maedhros helped Eluréd scrabble onto his shoulders, and lifted Elurín into his arms. He followed behind the duck. Just twenty steps from the cave the woods opened, and Maedhros found himself back in the clearing where the duck had originally come to him. He glared at the duck. “Is there any reason you couldn't have brought me the short way the first time?”
The duck looked hard at him, then nodded before taking flight. “I have the strangest feeling it was testing me,” Maedhros mused.
“You can talk to ducks?” Eluréd asked.
“Neat,” his twin whispered.
Spying his twin brothers, sitting together and watching as their supplies were packed, Maedhros approached them. Amrod saw him first, and took a bite of the dried meat in his hand before passing it to his twin. “You found them!” He cried.
“Yes. Do you have food?”
Amras stuck the piece of meat in his mouth as he dug through his pack. He held a metal tin out to Maedhros who sighed and shook his head. “Elurín I need to set you down.”
“No.” The elfling clutched his shirt and refused to be moved.
Amras stood and opened the tin, offering a few nuts to each boy. Once they were both nibbling on their snack he closed the tin and tucked it into Maedhros shirt collar. “Not helpful,” Maedhros growled.
Amras shrugged. With his teeth he tore a chunk of the meat in his mouth, then passed the rest to Amrod.
“Boys, I simply cannot carry you forever.”
“I don't know them.” Elurín whispered, hiding his head in Maedhros’ shoulder.
“An hour ago you did not know me.”
Elurín looked up, suddenly frightened, as though the thought had not previously occurred to him. Eluréd was quick to reassured his more timid twin, “They're twins like us, how bad can they be? What are your names?”
“Ambarussa,” they chorused.
Amras held out his arms. Eluréd climbed to him happily. Elurín whimpered and clung tighter to Maedhros. Maedhros shifted Elurín in his arms, wrapping his arms around his neck and his legs around his waist. The boy knotted his hands in his hair. In their shifting the tin of nuts worked free of his collar and slid farther under his shirt. The metal was cold, and chilled the skin it touched.
“Where is Celegorm’s captain? Did you find him?”
“We did,” Amrod replied. Hastily he bit into the dried meat to evade having to elaborate. He and his twin exchanged nervous glances.
“Where is he? I'd like to have a word him him.”
“Mandos.” Amras said quietly, stroking Eluréd’s hair.
Maedhros shut his eyes against the irritation. “What did you do?”
“It wasn't us.” Amrod said. “It was Kano.”
“After Moryo,” Amrod stopped, once again taking a bite to silence himself.
“He went a bit mad.”
“We tried to stop him.”
“But an angry Kanofinwe is a force to be reckoned with.” Maedhros shook his head. “Alright. What matters is that I found the twins. Where is Kano?”
“Seeing that we would be prepared to leave when you returned. Amrod share.” Amras glared at his twin, who was about to take another bite of the meat. Amrod held out the morsel and Amras bit from it.
“Would you like me to find Kano for you?” Amrod asked, petting the boy in his twins arms.
“Why bother?” Amras asked, despite the mouthful of meat. He swallowed and said, “He’ll show soon enough; now that these two are here his small-child senses will be ringing the steeple bells in his head.”
“I have tried to tell you, your cousin made that up to make fools of you.”
“Oh? Then explain that.” Maedhros turned to see Maglor running toward him. Realizing his sibing had no intention of slowing, he turned his back to shield Elurín from the impact of his brother crashing into him.
Maglor's arms wrapped around his waist and the minstrel whispered, “Oh you're back, thank Eru you're back.” Elurín whimpered. At the sound, Maglor pulled back staring at the boys as though he hadn't even noticed them. “You found them.” He smiled and stroked the child's back. Whatever fit of madness or anger that had possessed him to kill Celegorm’s captain had faded.
Uncertain of this new elf Elurín reached out and pulled at the minstrel’s earring, an unusual band of beaten copper. Immediately the band was removed, and proffered to the child as a toy. “Who are you?” Eluréd asked curiously.
“Maglor.” The minstrel replied, turning to see the other twin.
“We need to leave,” Maedhros said.
“Alright,” Maglor said absentmindedly.
Maedhros looked down at Elurín. “Can Maglor carry you? I promise he's nice.” Elurín nodded shyly.
Maglor pulled him into his arms and bounced him. Maedhros began pulling at his shirt. The tin of nuts had slid all the way down his chest and become trapped at his belt. Seeing no alternative Maedhros removed his belt and the tin fell to the ground.
“How did you find them?” Maglor asked once he had retrieved the tin and replaced his belt. He opened the tin with his teeth and allowed each of the twins to take a small handful.
“That is a story for another time. For now, know this; I am never eating duck again.”
“Of course.” Maglor nodded solemnly. He started. “Wait, what?”