**Imladris, The Last Homely House
Orophin slowly woke up, his mouth felt like wool and his head pounded angrily. Sunlight poured into the room and caused stabbing pains to shoot through his eyes, which he quickly closed.
What had he done last night? he wondered.
He tried to move but felt a tug at his scalp. Peeking open one eye, he saw one of the twins, still asleep, lying next to him. As his vision came into better focus, Orophin saw the other twin and Rúmil.
Why were they lying on the floor? Orophin sighed heavily as he desperately tried to remember what had happened.
Ah! The twins had thought to ply Haldir and Rían with enough wine so they would drop their guard. Obviously, the Peredhils underestimated them…Again!
//Thank the Valar we are only lying on the floor! It could be so much worse!!// Orophin thought with relief.
Just then, Elrohir rolled over and Orophin could not stop his shout of pain as he felt his hair being pulled, hard! His shout woke the others in a violent chain reaction.
Shouts and curses filled the room as the hung-over elves struggled to understand what happened.
“Get off my hair!” Elladan ordered.
“I am not on it…you are on mine!” growled Rúmil.
“What the —OW!!”
“Who in the name of –!”
“We have been braided together?!” Orophin gasped in disbelief.
“What twisted elf would do this to another?!” asked Rúmil as he held his braid tightly to keep Elladan’s movements from ripping it out. “Quit moving!!”
“When I get my hands on her…” Elrohir grumbled, knowing who was responsible.
“I said quit moving!”
Erestor paused outside of Glorfindel’s rooms as he heard a roar come from deep within. The roar turned quickly to cursing and Erestor only smiled and continued down the corridor. He had hoped to enjoy Glorfindel’s predicament but his smile disappeared and his thoughts turned inward.
When Erestor returned to his niece this morning, she had tried to make light of the nightmare; blaming the secondager. But he saw the truth in her haunted eyes, the pain.
“Elladan and Elrohir tried to get us drunk but it backfired on them,” she said flippantly. “I hope you take care of Glorfindel, I am certain he was the one who took your bottle of secondager for them.”
“That is done, as I am confident you and the marchwarden took care of the twins and his brothers.”
Erestor saw the smile as she nodded. Her eyes sparkled briefly as she remembered the previous evening; the braiding incident and the time she and Haldir spent on the balcony. But just as quickly the light was replaced with despair.
“You know you can tell me anything, tôr-iel-nin,” Erestor said softly, his heart breaking at the pain in her eyes. “I see that you care for the young wardens…and Haldir.”
Rían wanted to deny it but could not. Her uncle continued as he took her hand gently in his. “The nightmare you had…it is a fear I know you have carried since your parents died. I would have you tell me of it so I could share this burden. You need not be alone in this, Rían.”
Looking into Erestor’s dark brown eyes, she saw an old, deep pain and remembered. Of course, he would understand. Taking a deep breath, she told him of the nightmare and after voicing her fears to her beloved uncle, she no longer felt alone.
They had been sitting on the balcony, when a knock came to the door. Erestor answered and it was a servant informing him that the correspondence was finished and Elrond was on his way to the dining hall.
Rían stood when she heard that, her expression full of anxiety. “That means they will be leaving soon,” she said.
“Yes. They will be heading back to Lothlórien tomorrow morning.”
Rían tried not to react but felt her heart come to a stop. “Good. Maybe life will be able to go back to normal around here.”
Although her words were blunt, almost callous, Erestor saw her swallow hard as she forced the words past her lips. He watched her for a few more moments as she tried to maintain a calm façade. But nothing could hide the hurt reflected in her eyes.
“I will meet you in the hall for breakfast,” Erestor said gently and kissed her on the brow. “Do not be too late.”
Erestor continued through the House in silence. Elrond had been correct. For whatever reason, Rían and Haldir were connected. Why, he did not know. They did not know each other that well. They had only been children when she was in Lothlórien so long ago, in Rohan they only had a couple days in the others’ company, and now in Imladris—
A connection between them, like Elrond alluded to, only came about after years of courtship…after a couple was bonded. What did all this mean?
As Erestor drew near the solar, he could hear all manner of shouting and cursing. He recognized Elladan and Elrohir’s voices immediately. They ranted and raved along with two others, assigning blame and vowing revenge.
Quietly, Erestor took several steps into the room and stopped. He allowed himself the luxury of smiling since the other elves were too busy to notice.
All four elves had hair sticking out every which way as they fought to untangle themselves. The twins, with each side braided, had the toughest time. Between their arguing and being hampered with headaches from overdrinking, the advisor wondered how long it would take them to get undone.
“Thank the Valar!” Orophin gasped, the last tangle coming loose from Elrohir. He threw himself back on the floor in relief and took a moment to calm himself.
Suddenly, the room became quiet as the presence of the Chief Advisor was noticed. Erestor stood over them, his expression dark and forbidding.
“I expect Lord Elrond will be wondering why his sons and guests are not at breakfast,” the dark-haired advisor said, his voice hinting at bigger trouble.
“Is he very angry?” Elladan asked.
Erestor raised an eyebrow in answer then silently left the solar.
Orophin rushed to help Rúmil as the twins redoubled their efforts. They did not see the grin on Erestor’s face as he headed for the dining hall.
Erestor met Rían just as she reached the door to the hall and she immediately noticed the suspicious gleam to his dark eyes.
“What have you done?” she asked, not able to stop herself from smiling.
“I have done nothing, really. But we do need to be at our seats to get the total effect of their entrance,” Erestor replied as he and Rían went in and took their places.
Once seated, Rían turned to ask again what her uncle had done but stopped when Elrond entered. He had been talking with Haldir and he paused briefly to greet them.
“Erestor, Rían, good morning!” Elrond smiled.
“Good morning,” returned Erestor.
Haldir and Rían spoke not at all, a sad lingering glance at the other their only acknowledgement.
Elrond had taken his seat and poured a mug of tea when four very disheveled elves rushed into the hall.
“What in the name of the Valar?!” Elrond practically choked.
“We apologize for being late,” said Elladan.
Elrond left his place at the table and slowly circled the late arrivals. Their clothes had obviously been slept in and their bloodshot eyes spoke of too much wine. Elrond looked closer and noticed long, blond hairs intertwined with the twins’ dark locks. Likewise, Rúmil and Orophin sported ebony strands in their own golden manes.
Orophin cringed as he realized how this must look. He vowed silently to make Rúmil pay for their involvement in last night’s debacle.
“I know this looks strange, Adar, but there is an explanation,” Elladan said, his voice clearly panicked.
“I should hope so,” Elrond replied.
“We were braided together while we slept,” Elrohir growled irritably.
“And you allowed this? Is this some archaic Lothlórien custom I should know about?!”
Elrond continued to circle the four elves, his gaze not leaving them.
“We had drunk too much wine, my lord. We do not know how we became in such a position,” Rúmil explained, his tone apologetic.
It was then Elrond saw the matching conspiring smiles on Haldir and Rían. The elf lord fought back his own grin as he realized who, indeed, was responsible.
Oh! How he would have enjoyed seeing those two braiding their drunken brethren together!
“Next time you choose to drink the night away, make sure you are presentable before showing up in my dining hall,” Elrond ended his words with a dismissive wave of his hand and resumed his place at the table.
The four elves looked in disbelief at Erestor as they realized Elrond had not been looking for them. They could have cleaned up before breakfast and saved themselves the public embarrassment! How devious! How cunningly manipulative! But then, Erestor was Chief Advisor for good reason.
The doors to the dining hall slammed open as a very angry seneschal appeared. Stares followed Glorfindel as he neared the main table. He ignored the gasps and Elrond’s choked curse, his gaze finding Erestor who was smiling quite smugly.
“I apologize for my lateness,” Glorfindel ground out from between clenched teeth as he bowed his dark head.
Dark head?! Somehow, during the night, Glorfindel’s golden hair had turned raven black. And from the look in his eyes, he was not happy about it.
Elrond looked to where Glorfindel was gazing and saw Erestor grinning madly.
“Glorfindel, mellon-nin. That is a good look for you,” smiled Erestor as he raised his glass in salute.
tôr-iel-nin – my niece
Adar – Father
mellon-nin – my friend.