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The Hidden Fortress

Of Estel, and How He Came to Break His Word


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DISCLAIMER/FAIR WARNING - THIS IS FANFIC

This "Universe" and its major characters belong to J.R.R. Tolkien, I have merely borrowed, used, and sometimes shamelessly abused it and them.

 

I started these stories here in a prior incarnation of the Fort, and I am planning to write a few more, and the new ones will not make sense without the old ones. I should probably have revised these for continuity, typos, etc., but was too lazy, so here they come, warts and all.

 

Prologue

 

It was neither an easy nor a simple business, growing to manhood as "Estel, son of no one" in the House of Lord Elrond, where honored visitors were greeted as, for example, "Legolas, son of Thranduil" (whom Estel was not allowed to meet). And somehow, all of the songs and stories told or sung in any language known to elf or man began similarly: "It came to pass that Tuor, Son of Huor . . . ", or "Beren, Son of Barahir . . ." (that was Estel's favorite).

 

But then again, it was neither an easy nor a simple matter to raise the Hope of the West in ignorance of his heritage. After the fall of the kingdom in the North, Lord Elrond had fostered all of the Heirs of the Northern Line in Rivendell, true enough. When each oldest son of each Chieftain attained the age of thirteen, the left his parents' care and came to Rivendell, to learn every art and skill that Lord Elrond and his twins could impart.

 

Each had already learned from his father that he was expected to be strong in battle, cunning in tactics, and a leader of men. Each was already accustomed to riding long distances without tiring – or without admitting to it, to the good-natured japes and rough horseplay of men who spent long portions of their lives away from the civilizing influences of their beloveds, whom they missed desperately – without admitting to it. And each knew that he was heir to the glory and the ignominy of his forebears in equal parts. That there was the possibility that he would be The One. The One who would be the renewer of his house. Or The One who would see its destruction. Perhaps both, like Ar-Pharazon the Golden, who brought the Great Enemy low, groveling at the feet of a son of man. And then in his turn fell to that Enemy's cunning , wrought the doom of Numenor and caused the lands of the Eldar to be removed forever from the reach of Men. Or like Isildur himself, who had taken the Enemy's most precious possession and then been destroyed by it.

 

But each was shielded from the contemplation of that possibility by the strong arms and will of his father. At least until he was old enough to understand his own nature and to choose either a path of caution, hoping to be that One, and husbanding his resources and leading his people with cunning. Or perhaps fearing to be that One, and spending his days with the reckless abandon that would ensure an early death.

 

But none died so early as Estel's father, who was killed – or rather, assassinated – when he was barely three score and Estel had but two years of knowing only the sweetness of his mother's smiles, and the strength of his father's arms when those arms lifted him high in play. And never had the line of Elros come so close to extinction.

 

Arathorn was struck down by an orc's arrow. But it was no ordinary arrow – when the first ranger to reach his fallen chieftain pulled it from the bleeding socket, the head disintegrated into a filthy black smoke. Even had it not struck a vital spot, the piece of a Morgul blade fixed to the shaft would have performed its venomous and fatal task. Moreover, it was the only such arrow shot in the attack, which was a craftily planned ambush by a very small band of orcs.

 

The other orcs had been watching the passes and the roads leading to Rivendell, and for weeks after the death of Arathorn, they stopped every party traveling in that direction, looking in particular for any woman abroad on the roads and slaying any young child they could find.

 

It had been a perilous undertaking for Gilraen the Fair to set out for Rivendell, disguised as a tradesman, with only one of her brothers accompanying her, and with her child drugged and hidden in an empty ale cask in the bottom of a cart. But their daring was rewarded, as was their foresight in lashing the top casks very loosely to the cart – they "accidentally" lost most of the load in a "panic" when the orcs approached, and soon the orcs were fighting among themselves over the best ale they had ever smelled, then tasted, then swilled.

 

Prologue (continued)

 

Gilraen and her brother had congratulated themselves on their cleverness and upon their narrow escape, when they had heard a snatch of what passed for the orcs' conversation as they trundled away.

 

"Well, hit's not as hif we 'adn't halready done for the bitch as wot we was told to look for, and 'er whelp has well, HICKKKHH BURPPPHHH!!!!"

 

"Yeaeah, 'oo sez we can't take a little break, eh? And curse that 'ell 'orse !"

 

Puzzled and alarmed, they made haste – as much haste as they could in a cart pulled by horses that would have no appeal even for orcs or common thieves, and with a two year old child that had to sleep by day in a smelly ale cask and needed to be fed and comforted at night.

 

By the time they arrived at the outskirts of Rivendell, the roads were guarded by elf warriors and the woods were swarming with sentries.

 

"What business have you in Imladris?", pronounced in the sternest of fashions by Glorfindal himself, was not the greeting they had hoped for.

 

Gilraen's eyes had brightened suspiciously, as she threw back her hood.

 

Her brother Angbarad scowled, "And what courtesy is this that Imladris extends to the widow of the last chieftain of the Dunedain?"

 

When Glorfinal seemed stunned, he added, "We have barely escaped a party of orcs, and that only because of their greed for ale. By the grace of the Valar they did not suspect the treasure concealed in the bottommost cask – the heir of Isildur."

 

Glorfindal slowly drew the hood back up over Gilraen's hair, "By the grace of the Valar, indeed," he breathed, "and no more may be spoken until you are safe in the House of Elrond." He escorted them himself into Rivendell with sword drawn, and led them into the House of Elrond through a tunnel opening into its cellars, so capacious as to permit the entrance of cart as well as passengers.

 

They were met by the steward of Elrond's house, who was sped away by Glorfindal with a curt order, "Tell your master that he is required here, and that he must come alone."

 

The great Elf Lord began to toss down casks of ale from that humble cart as if they held feathers, and when he came to the bottom cask, he lowered it gently, and opened it.

 

He was lifting the child out when Lord Elrond strode into the cellar. "You summon me thus in my own household? " he began.

 

"Behold the Chieftain of the Dunedain, " Glorfindal announced, holding the child high, "who did not, after all, perish with his mother on the road to Imladris!"

 

"Lady Gilraen," Elrond said softly, "The Aelinaglar was taken from a dying orc, who boasted of ripping it from the throat of a woman slain with her young son on the road to Rivendell. The corpses were found, burned beyond recognition, along with the body of a great horse."

 

"'The bitch and her whelp'," Gilraen repeated slowly, fingered her own fair throat, "So spoke one of the beasts we left brawling drunkenly, "But here is a mystery indeed, for I left it with my people for safekeeping."

 

Prologue (concluded)

 

The mystery was soon explained, however, for another rider had arrived in Rivendell and was escorted to Elrond by his steward as soon as he revealed himself as Gilraen's remaining brother, Rasgalen.

 

"It was Aethelyn, my sister, " said Rasgalen slowly, "We could not stop her."

 

"My lady companion," Gilraen answered the question unspoken, "Since the birth of her son. A shieldmaiden of Rohan brought back by a Ranger as his bride – her husband fell defending Arathorn's body."

 

"She took it so hard," Rasgalen continued, "Especially since the little one began to fail."

 

"Her son Aeldred was born a year to the day before mine," Gilraen said, "But he never thrived, he has a wasting sickness that naught could cure, he will have a few good days or weeks, and then fall ill again. It was because of his illness that Aethelyn no longer rode with the Rangers – she could fight as well as any one of them and her horse would carry no man unless Aethelyn asked it. It grieved her to put her sword away and stay behind with me, I think, and it must have pained her to see my son grow so strong as hers grew paler and weaker, but she loved Aragorn as well as Aeldred and would have died for either one."

 

"She did, my sister." Rasgalen swallowed hard, "That night, after you'd left, she took her boy and sat up with him, singing for hours. I heard her tell him:

 

'I will not watch you die for nothing, my son – and I will not live for nothing once you have gone, for I know you will see not so much as another year. No, for you there is no hope, and so there is none for me. But some hope remains for our Lady and her little Lord, and we can yet aid them.

 

We will end our days together, and go to our fathers' halls in honor, Aeldred! and it may yet be that our little Lord will live, and come into his own, and his people may sing of the last ride of the smallest of the Rohirrim!'

 

"She came out then, sister, wearing your clothes, and the Aelinaglar, and she set Aeldred before her on her great horse, and she rode out, shouting, 'Death and a new dawn!'

 

"She cut across open country, and we would never have been able to catch her – the horse was too strong and too fast. I followed when I could, hoping for the best, for her and for you."

 

"She knew our plan," Gilraen sighed, "And riding at speed across the country, she would have passed us easily, and cut back onto the road ahead of us. And the orcs were waiting." One tear stained the face of Gilraen the Fair. "How it must have galled her, not to be able to bear her sword at the last, since I would not have carried one. To face them – with her child, and unarmed."

 

"They died cleanly, Lady, " said Glorfindal, "The bodies we found were pierced by arrows only, although by many. And they were not unavenged – the horse of Rohan had trampled more than a score of orcs before they brought it down."

 

"They died – for us," Gilraen, who had held her chin high from the moment she had looked down upon her Arathorn's body, lowered her head, and sobbed.

 

And her child, who had stayed so still and quiet, hearing his mother, began to wail himself. Angbarad and Rasgelen tried to comfort them, and the mighty Lord Elrond and the great Elf lord Glorfindal, who would rather have faced the Witch King of Angmar than such mortal sorrow, left them to their grief for the moment.

 

Note: The Aelinaglar was a freshwater pearl of great size and luster, an heirloom and a traditional bridegift to the wife of the Chieftain of the Dunedain. It was later given by King Elessar and Arwen Evenstar to Eowyn of Rohan, on the occasion of her marriage to Faramir, in honor of her kin. And the song of the last ride of the smallest of the Rohirrim was sung in Minas Tirith and in the Golden Hall of Meduseld as well.

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Chapter 1 – A Wise Decision and a Foolish Decision

 

It was perhaps a very wise decision of Lord Elrond's to conceal the fact that Aragorn II, son of Arathorn had survived the slaughters on the Great North Road. The orc attacks had been orchestrated cleverly, with more planning and more forethought than the creatures were wont to display. There had been increased activity in Minas Morgul, and the Lord Elrond at the time suspected the hand of the Witch King of Angmar.

 

Aside from those with direct knowledge of Aragorn's escape, only two of the race of Men were told - Dirhael and Ivorwen, upon the insistence of their sons and daughter. Angbarad, the boldest of the Rangers, agreed to act as "Chief" of the Dunedain – no longer Chieftain - relying on the greater wisdom of his younger brother. Of the Eldar in Rivendell, only the sons of Elrond were told, as they would be in great part responsible for caring for the child and instructing him.

 

The bodies of Aethelyn and Aeldred were laid to rest in Glade Edain, a small clearing marked by simple memorials for those few of the Chieftains and their ladies who had ended their days peacefully in Rivendell. Their memorials appeared to read: "Gilraen" and "Aragorn II" , and tears had started from the true Gilraen's eyes at this last sad deception.

 

"Dry your eyes, Lady," had said the Lord Elrond, "For the truth and the honor of their names and deeds will be apparent when the heritage of Isildur's heir is made known to him, and Vilya reveals what she now perforce conceals!" There was a burst of shattering blue from his outstretched hand, and by that light Gilraen read: " Here lies Aethelyn of Rohan, who gave her life to save Gilraen" and "Here lies Aeldred, Son of Aethelyn, Child of Rohan and the West, who gave his life to save Aragorn II".

 

It was agreed to use a partial truth to hide the greater truth – a story was given out that a desperate woman with a dying child had brought her son to Rivendell, that the Lord Elrond had cured the child, and that the child had been re-named "Estel" and the woman "Erewen". Out of gratitude, "Erewen" had remained in Rivendell to assist Lord Elrond with the chores of the stillroom, the Lord Elrond's lady having left Middle Earth.

 

So it came to pass that the child Estel began to learn the art and the lore of healing along with his letters – he was far too young to be separated from his mother, and there were neither other children nor toys in the House of Elrond. He played with poultices and dressings, and was greatly indulged by the more kindly among the Elves of the household.

 

Moreover, he listened to all that was spoken in his hearing, and like any bright child, he absorbed more than one tale unfit for his age. Especially since he had also learned to creep silently into very small places when he was believed to be soundly sleeping. His favorite was a tiny nook in the Hall of Fire, and there he was always so absorbed with the songs and stories of the Elves and Men of ages past that he could remain awake until the company broke up and he could hasten back to the bed that was still too big for him long before anyone thought to check on him.

 

One of the few concessions that was made to the presence of Estel and Erewen in the routine of Rivendell was the celebration of Estel's birthday. For one of the Eldar who is to all intents and purposes immortal, there is nothing particular to celebrate in a birthday. But for the mother of a small being fortunate not to have met death before his third year, there was great reason to rejoice. So there were birthday celebrations, and presents that for the first two occasions were chosen by Erewen, and were eminently practical, especially a little cloak and hood in a bright orange hue which made it much more difficult for the child to hide! But shortly before the child's fifth birthday, there was talk of letting the child choose a gift himself, along with some mutters about "spoiling" and "unsuitable" from the Lord Elrond, who had not been entirely amused when the Lord Glorfindel arrived tardily at a feast in honor of visitors from the Golden Wood, wearing a particularly cumbersome and somewhat - fragrant – bandage over a perfectly sound arm.

 

In fact the Lord Elrond had determined to put his foot down, and was about to inform the Lady Erewen that the child was already too cosseted when his attention was distracted by the sight of Estel himself. He was walking back and forth with one small hand alternately clutching at his eye and scratching his head, muttering and reciting something to himself with an air of deadly seriousness which somehow was not as comical as it should have been in such a small boy.

 

"Stop that, child!" Lord Elrond had ordered. "Come here and tell me what is ailing you!"

 

Estel approached him and lowered his bright grey eyes at the Elf Lord's glare. "Your pardon, Lord Elrond," he murmured, "But I am trying to imagine the feeling of death, so that I may become accustomed to it and come to have no fear of it. So I will never disgrace myself and I will not be weak and dishonor your house like the last Kings of Numenor who wrought the Akallabeth and brought doom upon all their people."

 

Lord Elrond was momentarily stunned, and waved the boy away.

 

"He was there when his father was carried in," Erewen murmured, "I had thought him too young to remember it – "

 

"I will deal with the fools who repeated stories of the end of Numenor within his hearing!" The Lord Elrond stalked from the room, "And the child may have anything that pleases him for this birthday and for all his birthdays hereafter!"

 

And as even the humblest of mortal parent could have warned a mighty Elf Lord, that in turn was the most foolish of decisions.

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Chapter Two – Birthdays and Birthday Presents

 

The gift that Estel asked for on that fifth birthday was only the first that caused consternation in Rivendell, and was also the one and only request that did not also greatly disrupt the hitherto orderly routines of that household, cause the master of the house to regret his foolish decision and cause his retainers to regret that decision even more bitterly than their lord.

 

When asked to name his gift, the boy cast a sidelong glance at Erewen. In one of the rough and identical habits of deep grey or brown cloth that she had worn in lieu of mourning ever since her arrival at Rivendell, she made but a poor and sad showing among the Elf women in their silken finery. Estel walked slowly up to one of the loveliest of the ladies, resplendent in a gown of mossy green embroidered with tiny gems that glistened like dew. "My honored Lord," Estel looked up with the utmost gravity, "I would see my mother in a dress like this one."

 

There was a chorus of sighs and coos from the Elf ladies, and Erewen had lowered her head so that none might see her tears. "Estel," she said quietly, "that is not a gift for yourself, and it is far too extravagant a request."

 

"It is all that I want," he replied, and looked beseechingly at Lord Elrond, who smiled broadly. Truth to be told, the unsightliness of Erewen's garments had grated on his Elven nerves for some time.

 

"I gave my word that the child should have what pleases him, and so it shall be." Elrond smiled again at Erewen, "And there need be no extravagance at all. There are trunks of unused garments that may be easily remade to fit."

 

A silence fell over the company, and fortunately, the Lady Erewen failed to interpret it correctly. "I am most grateful to you, for this as for all the kindnesses you have shown us, and of course, I will make the alterations myself."

 

The lady in green who was about to enlighten Erewen fell silent as the Lord Elrond's unspoken thought rolled like approaching thunder among his people. "No one is to mention the name of Lady Celebrian in connection with this matter."

 

And so it was that from that day on, that the Lady Erewen was once more fair to behold, even among the bright ladies of Rivendell. And that, from the next day on, when Estel innocently asked, "Who was Celebrian?" the Lord Elrond was moved to warn his people to guard their thoughts as well as their tongues in Estel's company.

 

They began to regard the approach of Estel's birthday with some foreboding, after the next celebration. When asked to name his gift, Estel asked for a stallion, quite the most difficult animal in Lord Elrond's stables, to replace his solid, tractable little pony.

 

"Estel!" Lord Elrond had answered, "Brethil has served you faithfully and well, and Talathoron is not disposed to carry any rider, let alone a small child of Men!"

 

"My Lord," Estel replied, "Brethil loves me, as I love him, but he is weary of carrying me as I have come to make him somewhat nervous – that is no recompense for his service. As for Talathoron - he will carry me because it will amuse him to do so."

 

"Estel," Lord Elrond said sternly, "As you insist, you may have what you have asked for. But it will go ill for you should you have exaggerated your skill in communicating with our horses – it would seem that Brethil has earned his retirement, so should Talathoron be less willing to suffer you than you imagine, you will walk. At least for the coming year. "

 

It was unfortunate for Elladan, whom Talathoron had twice attempted to nip, that his was the audible snicker. "And, Elladan, you will see to it that Estel does not come to grief with Talathoron."

 

It was equally unfortunate for Ellrohir that his father also heard his aside, "I would give much to see my brother attempt to saddle and bridle Talathoron."

 

"Then you may assist him in doing so." although few in Middle Earth could claim to have heard the great Elrond snort, "snort" did indeed describe the sound made by the Master of Rivendell as he left the room.

 

Interlude: The Year of the Horse

 

One year more or less should figure as little in the schemes and the recollections of the Eldar. Such was not the case for the following year in Rivendell. The year bitterly recalled by the twin sons of Elrond as "The Year of the Horse" was enlivened by their futile attempts to keep pace with their young charge. No horse in Elrond's stables could match Talathoron for speed or endurance or sheer nastiness of temper. The great stallion, it was true, never threw or attempted to throw his small rider. Rather he chose to race ahead of all others, choosing his own paths unerringly. Paths that invariably led through stinging brambles, and woods full of branches hanging just high enough for a rider the size of Estel to duck smartly under, and woe to the full grown Elf riding in pursuit! And it was great sport for horse and child to charge headlong into the roaring Bruinen rather than tamely crossing at the ford. Not to mention the pleasures of splashing through muck and mire and returning as filthy and as foul as a "Son of a by-blow slut of Melkor and a whoreson Mordor orc!" An oath that, although it had seemed most fitting when Ellrohir uttered it, proved to be less than acceptable to the Master of Rivendell when Estel innocently repeated it in his hearing. No more acceptable than Elladan's lengthy and indignant recitations of Talathoron's failings proved, as the stallion gave Elladan the lie by mincing as daintily as a lady's palfrey on every occasion in which Elrond was in sight.

 

 

Chapter 3 – The Elven Twins' Plot Goes Awry

 

The Year of the Horse eventually came to an end, shortly after Estel was moved to give up his great and unmanageable stallion for Talathoron's own sake. The Lord Glorfindel's beloved mare Lindon had shown unmistakable signs of aging, and though the Elf was loathe to retire her, it was no longer prudent to ride her into danger. Estel had come to know that Talathoron longed for battle, and would glory in carrying the great Elf Lord into whatever passed for war in his age. It was a sad little boy who agreed to trade horses with Glorfindel, but there were two Elven lordlings who exchanged triumphant toasts well into the small hours of the night. And who were overjoyed when on Estel's first attempt to jump a favorite wall (one which had a particularly nasty and mucky pond behind it), Lindon balked and neatly deposited Estel in a heap of leaves. (Although she could have cleared it handily, the mare held an opinion directly opposite from that of her predecessor concerning the training and encouragement appropriate to small riders.)

 

The joy of Ellrohir and Elladan proved short-lived, however, when it dawned upon them that Estel's next birthday approached. They hatched a cunning and seemingly fool-proof plot – they would put the child up to asking to learn to shoot a bow and arrow. They thought of surreptitiously procuring a toy set from the proprietor of the Prancing Pony, who could always be relied upon to produce odd articles at need, but, as the unsought honor of teaching the child would no doubt fall to, or rather, upon, Lord Elrond's Master of Archery, they thought it would be a fine joke if the dour Turancal were forced to improvise a suitable weapon.

 

The twins were in high spirits at Estel's party, and were unable to repress expressions that, in their mortal counterparts, would have been described as "smirks" as Elrond asked the child what he wished for.

 

Unbeknownst to the two, in an evil hour in the Hall of Fire, the worst would-be bard in Elvendom on Earth had sung his most puling ballad while Estel was concealed in his cozy little nook. A verse that had prompted the Master of Rivendell to order a concoction for indigestion to be stocked in the Hall of Fire for future occasions had made an indelible mark on the far less critical Estel:

 

" Fare thee well my one and Mortal love -

To Mandos' dark Hall must I speed:

Take from this dying hand my glove -

Oh, draw my Lorien bow at need!"

 

And when he named his gift, his eyes fairly blazed: "I would learn to draw a Lorien bow," he breathed reverently.

 

"Estel! A Lorien bow is given only at the particular favor of the Lady of the Golden Wood," the Lord Elrond had begun, when his sons' whispers registered.

 

"A Lorien bow! – son of a mangy whelp of Draugluin –" "It was your idea, not – "

 

"Therefore the Lords Ellrohir and Elladan will depart at once for Lothlorien and they will not return without your bow." The two were struck dumb, as much by the glare in their father's now cold eyes as by the prospect of negotiating with the Lady of the Golden Wood (or more accurately, coming up with a sizeable bribe for her Guardian to intercede for them in the matter) for a Lorien bow sized for a seven-year old mite of mortality.

 

"Since it will take the Lords quite some time to accomplish this mission," the Master of Rivendell continued, "You may ask for a second gift, in the meantime."

 

"I am most grateful, My Lord Elrond," Estel made his tiny bow, "I would have asked to learn to dive if – " he bit his tongue but had no need to finish his thought as Lord Elrond smiled broadly.

 

"And so you shall, Estel. I believe the Ladies Alata and Calenglin would be pleased to instruct you, and the Sylvan Pool should be most inviting in this season. It is a pity that the Lords Ellrohir and Elladan will not be able to accompany them on this expedition, and so I must prevail upon my trusted Turancal to leave his beloved armory to stand guard over your party."

 

The doe eyed Lady Alata and the more sultry Lady Calenglin hastened to the child's side, but for once the music of their laughter was not pleasing to the ears (at least not to the ears of the two whose cunning and conniving had ended by depriving of them of what promised to be a memorable and delightful romp in the company of the most flirtatious maids in their father's court). And never had they thought to see a grin so broad upon the face of Master Turancal, nor did it give them joy to hear his great guffaw upon their implacably expedited departure. The final blow was the Lord Elrond offering, in suspiciously dulcet tones, to drink to his Master of Archery's "Good health, or rather, good fortune!"

 

Interlude: Revealed in the Mirror

 

The Twins' mission was complicated by the fact that the Lady of the Golden Wood had unaccountably not yet forgiven them for a prior transgression, not entirely unrelated to their current imbroglio. The Twins had long vied alternately for the favors of both the Lady Alata and the Lady Calenglin, and both ladies alternately encouraged and discouraged them, somewhat indirectly. (The Ladies could indeed tell the Twins apart, but found it most amusing to "mistake" one for the other – the Lady Alata for example would pour out an exhaustive list of the numerous failings and callous heartlessness of Ellrohir to "Elladan", knowing full well it was Ellrohir she addressed.) When the Twins had, eventually, found the fair ones out, they hatched a scheme in which the Ladies' true feelings would be unveiled. Regrettably it involved inventing the necessity of a visit to their sister in Lothlorien, the feigning of illness at the welcoming feast, and the "borrowing" of the Lady of Light's Mirror. More regrettably, their attempt to spy on their fair ladies took place when the two were bathing, as they thought, quite privately in the Sylvan Pool. Most regrettably, the owner of the Mirror caught the Twins in the act, and declined to listen to the explanation that they were merely reading the lips of their inamoratas, and had barely glanced elsewhere ("barely" being the very, very unfortunate turn of phrase, that, when used by Ellrohir, had in Elladan's opinion, particularly set their grandmother off).

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Chapter 4 - Strategy

 

It was a tedious journey to the Golden Wood, as several issues required lengthy and repetitious debate: which Twin's injudicious remark had actually been the one overheard by their father, occasioning the journey; which Twin had in fact formulated the ill-fated plot in the first place, versus which Twin had sagely counseled against it; and which Twin had originally thought of using the Mirror of Galadriel for a purpose that was both patently unworthy and fraught with the potential for grandmotherly outrage and Noldorian retribution. Both Twins agreed that the Twin responsible for the train of disasters should be the Twin responsible for persuading Haldir to obtain a scaled-down Lorien bow from their grandmother, as well as for formulating a persuasive reason for their presence in Lothlorien that would bear no discernable resemblance to the truth. Since each Twin, however, remained fixed in his assessment that his brother was completely at fault in all three matters, they decided to settle the affair with a throw of dice (one of several pastimes regarded by both their parent and grandparents as low and resulting from an undue amount of contact with Men of reprehensible habits introduced to them by Men who had forgotten the discriminating acumen of their lineage i.e. tavern keepers and other associates of Rangers.)

 

Unaccountably, Elladan won the throw. Unaccountably at least to Ellrohir, as the very special pair of dice he had appropriated from a scoundrel whose abrupt exit from the Prancing Pony he had expedited to general applause had never yet failed him. (It was in truth his skills at sleight-of-hand that had failed him, as he had not noticed when his brother switched the dice.)

 

When at last they reached the Golden Wood, their initial encounter with Haldir proved to be unpromising. When Ellrohir embarked upon a convoluted tale of a mysterious debt incurred by the Master of Imladris to an equally mysterious Halfling (the Twins knew that the Guardian of the Golden Wood was not kindly disposed to Mortals of any size, nor to Dwarfs, but hoped his prejudices did not extend to the folk of the Shire) requiring the presentation of a very small Lorien bow, Haldir's icy stare, stopped him in mid-period.

 

"My Lord Ellrohir," Haldir accorded him a formal bow, a bad sign. "My Lord Elladan", a second formal bow – and a sign of epically bad proportions. "I am expressly commanded to convey you directly – and immediately – to My Lady's Presence."

 

The entire court of Lothlorien awaited them, and their grandmother fixed them with a stare that forcibly reminded them of the color and power of their father's great ring.

 

"My beloved grandsons," the Lady Galadriel spoke in the most dulcet of tones, "You honor us all with your presence – but no doubt there is a particular reason that has led you to make such a generous gift of your invaluable time?"

 

While it was very true that rarely had the Twins visited the Golden Wood without an ulterior motive, it was equally rare for either of their grandparents force their hands.

 

"There is a matter, of, some, import – that is, to say, there is a – we promised to – "

An exasperated Elladan cut through his brother's stammering as it appeared he was about to take the unprecedented step of blurting out the truth.

 

"That it has been called to our attention that our knowledge of our heritage and the history of our ancestors in Beleriand is sadly lacking. We have promised to remedy this unpardonable situation," Elladan, having quoted his father verbatim, as well as one of the many promises the Twins had yet to fulfill, made a bow worthy of Glorfindel himself.

 

Unlike his Lady, the Lord Celeborn was unable to repress a sound, which he turned into a cough, at the spectacle of his nephew Ellrohir's elfin jaw dropping and locking.

 

The Lady Galadriel smiled even more brilliantly, "My loves, I will undertake your instruction myself – I have awaited this new dawning of scholarly ambition for nigh on an Age. We will begin tomorrow, and I will tell you of the Flight of the Noldor."

 

"What have you done, you – you – I was supposed to –"

 

Once more, Elladan cut through his brother's incoherent aside, "It's called strategy, Twin – strategy. You should make a study of it. Mark my words, the subject of Lorien bows will crop up in our first "lesson", and Elwe's your uncle, that's our opportunity to get one for Estel!"

 

Interlude: Sisterly Counsel

 

"Mark my warg-gargling words," Ellrohir muttered bitterly between closed teeth, "Strategy! I'd like to strategize his - " He did not complete his thought, as his sister, a half-smile fraught with meaning on her lovely face, caught his eye. "Arwen," he sighed, "Is it true that, 'unlike your brothers', you have 'not squandered the gifts of your blood and dulled them like lead, rather you have refined them unto the sheen of ithildin under the moon and stars, that they are not exposed wantonly to the sight of fools and wastrels'?"

 

"If by that you mean to ask if it is true that I have spent many hours, and days and years in the study of the arts taught to our Grandmother by Melian the Maiar, then, yes."

 

"Could you turn my brother into a toad?"

 

"Does not our brother already sufficiently resemble a toad in your sight?"

 

"Arwen, if you start speaking to me like Father or Grandmother, by the grinding ice mountains of the Helcaraxe – "

 

"You have learned something, after all, after these seven months."

 

"Arwen! It has been like seven interminable ages of the earth – and, not one mention of - not one opportunity –"

 

"Ellrohir, just ask her for the bow for the little Heir, " Arwen paused, "And Grandfather says you will surely do yourself an injury if you cannot learn not to hold your jaw like that."

 

Chapter 5 – The Bow Leaves Lorien

 

"And yet, amidst the unsurpassed beauty of the Hidden Kingdom was there a seed that was sown in darkness, in darkness flourished, and then out of darkness – "

 

"Grandmother, em. Hrrm , Lady of Light – may we have the bow?!" Ellrohir had heard quite enough of the son of Eol, a bad seed if ever there was one, and had no stomach for a reiteration of the details of his dark deeds – he knew the end of that particular tale, and it had ever been a source of grief to him that Gondolin was ruined long before his birth. He managed to suppress a cry as his twin surreptitiously gave him a kick worthy of Talathoron in a particularly foul humor but could not repress a smile of smugness that would have graced the maw of a very well-fed dragon when the Lady Galadriel simply nodded.

 

"Of course you may have the bow – it was made ready many weeks since. You had but to ask."

 

"Elladan," Ellrohir spoke with the utmost concern, "You will no doubt do yourself an injury, holding your jaw like that."

 

"Ellrohir, it would no doubt pale in comparison to the injury that you are likely to incur not holding your tongue – "

 

"Gentlemen, it seems you are no longer interested in a very small Lorien bow – "

 

Both twins turned to her, with smiles of truly identical sickliness and said nearly in unison, "Dearest – Most Wise - Grandmother, it is of the most utter profund – the most acute, and you mean profound, not profund, and 'most utter' is re-duh, stupid – not unlike your strategy? – better than being tongue-tied like a dullard dwarf – "

 

Fortunately, the Twins were cut short by a peal of laughter from their sister, "Estel will be sitting upon the throne of Gondor by the time he gets his bow if you two do not cease this bickering."

 

"Arwen," suddenly Elladan was deadly serious, "Some things may not be spoken aloud, even here. Not while – someone - is so small and vulnerable."

 

"We each may play the fool," added Ellrohir, "But mayhap it is because we see a shadow growing, and our laughter is as proof against it as are edged weapons or spells."

 

"And it is because the mortal side of your blood is calling to you," Galadriel's eyes had darkened. "I tell you, there is an end to all things, and all beings that exist upon this Middle Earth, and the time of the Elves here may now be measured in years, and no more than years. To the three of you is granted the same choice that fell to your father and to his brother, with this difference. If you choose the life of the Eldar, you must forsake Middle Earth, and all that is dear to you here. The mountains and the rivers, the creatures of the forests and the fields and the forests and fields themselves. And the company of Men, with their short lives and their strong loves and hates and desires, their ability to truly live in the moment and not in the dim past and the distant future."

 

She stared into the eyes of each Twin in turn. "But, should you choose the life of Men, you must forsake the Eldar. For we will have passed beyond the circles of the world." Her glance softened, "The time for choice has not yet come, but it will come, and it will come more swiftly than you believe. And at present, the future of Men is in your keeping. So, my light-hearted ones, you must each play less the fool and more the counselor and guardian. Or you will come to bitter grief, and your hope to ruin.

 

"Come forth, Tirindir," she ordered, and a stately Elf approached with a beautiful little bow of mallorn wood, and a silken glove. "What do you know of the properties of these bows, Sons of Elrond?"

 

"That they are as highly prized for their beauty as they are rare – " Elladan began, at the same time Ellrohir replied, "Nothing."

 

Their sister stifled a cough as their grandmother stared them down. "As I thought. The bows of Lorien are rare indeed and they are beyond price for they are ensorcelled as they are crafted." She handed the small bow to Elladan along with a perfect miniature arrow.. "Draw it."

 

With a smile and a bow, Elladan tried to bend the little bow. His smile faded as, exerting all his strength, he could not draw the bow. He handed it to his grinning brother. "You try."

 

Ellrohir held it and examined it thoroughly, "It is indeed beautiful – and it is inscribed. 'Elessar' – after The Elfstone? – and that is why there is the little green stone set in it?"

 

"That, and more. Each Lorien bow is named and there is a purpose and a meaning to the name, which will be discovered by its owner in time. Each bow is made for its owner, and may only be drawn by that owner, unless the owner wishes otherwise."

 

"But, how?"

 

"Take the glove and try it on – the silk will stretch."

 

"Allow me, " Elladan smoothly took the glove from Tirindir before his brother could reach it.

 

As he tried to slip on the glove, which was embroidered in mithril, he suddenly stopped, and dropped the lovely thing as if he had been scalded.

 

The Lady of Light smiled thinly. "Pick it up – it will not burn your flesh if you carry it only and do not attempt to wear it. The owner of the bow must wear the glove the first time he draws it."

 

"Or, she", Arwen murmured.

 

"He must never wear it again, but must keep it safe and uncontaminated by touch or even sight. If he is to leave Middle Earth and wishes to leave the bow behind for another, he must give the glove to that person, along with his bow. And the glove must be worn again, once only, when the bow is first drawn." She handed a leather pouch to Elladan. "Place the glove in this, and do not touch it again until you give it to Estel."

 

Elladan obeyed, for once without question or quip.

 

"There are those among you, my people who have dared to whisper about the presentation of this bow to a mortal child." Her voice was not raised, but there was suddenly a power in it, and her grandsons knew that her words were only the echoes of the thoughts that now resounded to the boundaries of the Golden Wood. "Know this. The child will tread many a narrow path beset with perils that most of you would quail before. Moreover, there is a Shadow growing, and in that Shadow move dark forms which are reaching and grasping and whose substance not even my power can reveal fully. Known, or unknown, however, I will move against them according to my judgment. Let he who would question that judgment step forward now, openly. Or let him whisper no more."

 

It was as if the earth stood still, and the sun above it, such was the silence.

 

Galadriel turned to her grandchildren, and spoke once more for them alone. "Be wary, my two merry-makers, for my mind misgives me. A peril indeed approaches, and this bow will play its part. Go, now, but be on your guard."

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Interlude: A Point Taken in the Wrong Manner

 

The journey back to Rivendell was as tedious as the journey to Lothlorien, enlivened only by numerous exchanges of recriminations, vows never to occasion the wrath of a grandmother who was even more formidable than the Twins had supposed, repetitious exclamations of gratitude for having escaped relatively unscathed, and equally repetitious declarations that they would mend their ways, followed by proposals of intricate rules of future conduct, and exceptions to these rules.

 

When at last they had returned to their father's house, it was a scant two months before Estel's next birthday, and the child had been eagerly awaiting their arrival. In fact they had barely dismounted before he had run out to meet them. "Lord Elladan! Lord Ellrohir! – we have longed for your safe return, and we, I, - that is - ?"

 

"Yes, we have it!" exclaimed Ellrohir, in a manner instantly condemned as just as childish as the bright-eyed Heir by his tolerant brother, who was then forced, of course, to pull the little bow out of his saddlebag. "And, here it is!" he shouted, flourishing it in a way that his Twin later described as immature and suited more to Estel's age than their own. "And here is the glove!" "And here the arrows!"

 

Lord Elrond himself had come out to greet them then, with a great show of paternal approval, which made them exceptionally nervous, necessitating the first exception to the final code of reformed conduct that they had firmly agreed upon. A feast in their honor had been announced, to celebrate not only their successful mission, but their new status as loremasters possessed of exhaustive knowledge of their heritage. Neither Twin had any faith in his brother's ability to pass even the most cursory examination, and both agreed that some small fortification before the official festivities began was very much in order. They congratulated themselves upon not having acted in haste in implementing their new codes. Not, for example, having followed through upon their promise to pour out upon the thirsty ground the contraband contents of each and every vessel obtained at the back door of the Prancing Pony and smuggled into Imladris. (In point of fact, every single vessel was still intact.)

 

On their way to their quarters, they were waylaid by Estel, new bow in hand, and desperate to learn the finer points of archery. Unaccountably, he had more faith in the ability of the Twins to impart this knowledge than he had in the expertise of Master Turancal.

 

And nothing either Elladan or Ellrohir could say could dissuade him. Nor was the child in any way amenable to the postponement of his lessons. "Estel! For once in your life, you must wait upon your elders!" Ellrohir had thought his assumption of his father's sternest tone of voice and most baleful expression rather impressive, as the two sauntered away.

 

And certainly, it was enough to cast down the child's spirits. Unfortunately, Estel did not have quite the respect for the authority of the Twin that he had for the authority of the Master of Rivendell, and his thoughts betrayed him in an entirely unexpected fashion.

 

As the Twins were nearing their quarters, the disappointed Estel picked up his bow, notched an arrow, and let it fly. The Twins should have been well out of bowshot, even for an experienced Elven archer. Nonetheless, Estel's small arrow sped unerringly toward its target, and hit Ellrohir, fortunately, at the height one might have expected from the stature of the archer.

 

There were several consequences of Estel's exhibition of unlooked for skill with his bow. The first was that neither Estel nor Ellrohir were able to sit down that evening, for different, but not unrelated reasons. The second was that both the wounded and the unwounded Twin were ordered to attend Master Turancal while he taught Estel the art of archery, so that all three might learn more of the true properties of Lorien bows.

 

The third consequence was the shock sustained by the mighty Lord Glorfindel, when, upon accompanying the outraged Master of Rivendell to his chamber, he witnessed the said Elf Lord collapse in his own High Seat in such a fit of unbridled laughter as had not been heard in Imladris in living memory.

 

Interlude, continued – More Regarding Lorien Bows

 

A very chastened Estel, a most amused Elladan, and a rather sheepish Ellrohir reported to Master Turancal the morning after the shot heard round Imladris.

 

"Lord Ellrohir," Estel began, "I am full of shame for my misdeed, and I beg your forgiveness."

 

"We will say no more about it, Estel," replied the Elf Twin. "I would wager my father made your nether regions smart as much as mine." Estel grinned shyly and nodded, rubbing the affected area. "It is not the first time an arrow has gone astray in Rivendell – and, by the beard of an Istari, Estel, that was a rare shot! – " Ellrohir rubbed his own affected area in turn. "Finer by far than the time Elladan shot the cap clean off that undergrown, self-inflated excuse for a Dwarf –"

 

Elladan coughed loudly and muttered, "Example. Bad – Father said, don’t' set, eh?"

 

"Right." Ellrohir coughed himself. "Estel, ignore that – and don't –"

 

Master Turancal had heard enough. "Estel," he said, not unkindly, "You have already learned your first lesson at arms. A lesson that has yet to register in certain quarters." He glared at the Twins. "A weapon is not a toy. You do not draw a weapon unless you have need to use it for a serious purpose, and when you draw a weapon in jest or in anger you are like to come to grief."

 

Both Twins coughed.

 

"Master Turancal, it is true that I was angry, and it is true that that is why I drew and fired my bow. But I had no thought that I could hit Lord Ellrohir."

 

"Estel, your bow is no ordinary weapon. The Lords Elladan and Ellrohir should have told you at the outset that this bow has its own name, and its own presence, and that it will answer to your will."

 

"I know it is named 'Elessar', and I can sense a – a – life in it," Estel said slowly.

 

"It was made of living mallorn in the Golden Wood, and it has been charged by the Lady of Light to serve you, Estel. It was your thought and your will, clouded by rage, that sped the arrow. Thoughts are not always idle, child – they can shape this world."

 

Both Twins took involuntary steps backward. "If, of course, they are not as transient and aimless as butterflies, or gnats." The Master of Archery stared coldly at the Twins.

 

"Then I must take great care not to let my thoughts be clouded, if I am to be worthy of this bow's service."

 

"Yes, and before you are allowed to draw 'Elessar' again, you must hone your skills on an ordinary weapon – "

 

"Catch me using one of these again," said Elladan under his breath, glancing at his own bow, "If I had one of those – "

 

"But, you are already an archer of unparalleled prowess," said Estel innocently.

 

It was Master Turancal's turn to cough. "Come along with me, boy – and I will see that you parallel such prowess, soon enough." And it was Elladan's turn to stare coldly.

 

Chapter 6 – Estel Has Need of His Bow

 

Had the Lords Elladan and Ellrohir been as diligent in their attempts to reform their conduct as little Estel proved to be in his study of archery, tragedy would not have come close to striking at the heart of Imladris.

 

As Estel's eighth birthday approached, Master Turancal was so pleased with his progress that he gave the boy leave to put aside his Rivendell bow and take up "Elessar" in earnest. He proved so single-minded in his efforts that, indeed, it was Master Turancal who often found the need to stop his practicing and send him off to play or to ride with the Twins, who, though they would not admit it, had come to miss the little boy's company.

 

They were secretly delighted, and their father somewhat relieved, when Estel announced on his birthday that he wished to learn to track and to hunt and to live off the land. The Lord Elrond took his sons aside and told them somberly, "The boy's wish is as a gift from the Valar. Much more than is safe has been said and repeated about a small child living in the House of Elrond, as skilled as an Elf or a Captain of Gondor with his bow. I would have you keep the boy busy playing at hunting and fishing and woodcraft, within our borders, but far from the household, until the talk has died a natural death. Do not let him out of your sight."

 

Had his sons followed that order to the letter, all might have been well. But the lure of a boon companion of old, a Ranger who had found honorable retirement too tame, proved too strong for the Twins' good intentions. The Ranger, a grizzled veteran named Ladronur, had taken to running games of chance in various locations, including the back room at the Prancing Pony. Word had reached the Twins that Ladronur had recently acquired an exotic young companion from a wandering tribe of the Haradrim. And that they had invented a variation of dicing which featured the wagering of articles of clothing as well as coin. And, finally, that one of these games of chance would take place in a clearing not far from the eastern border of Lord Elrond's lands.

 

The Lords Elladan and Ellrohir debated with themselves, and with each other, and in the end, they could see no harm in leaving Estel safely asleep in camp, after a particularly strenuous day of searching for traces of non-existent Wargs, and climbing trees to practice escaping from the savage beasts should they be encountered. And so they covered a sleeping Estel with a grey Lorien cloak, and crept away to the clearing on foot, leaving their horses behind.

 

The merriment was well under way, when Estel's sleep became troubled. He dreamed of a dark place, vast and yet oppressively close, far under the earth, with not a single trace of light and without an opening to the outside. He sensed that, there, time had no meaning, with no way to measure day or night or season. And then he heard a voice, deep and as dark as the place itself, a voice he felt he should have recognized, but did not. "Wake, boy! Wake and arm yourself, for your companions are in peril and your duty is clear!" It echoed and repeated endlessly through the dark place, until Estel did indeed begin to wake.

 

It was then that he saw in his mind a laughing company gathered about a fire in a clearing, and a very little distance away in the woods, a horde of huge, misshapen figures creeping and stalking nearer and nearer to the group about the fire. When the firelight shone clearly on the grinning face of Elladan, Estel jumped up with a start, threw off his Elven cloak, thought for a moment, took it up again, and raced to Lindon. There was no time for saddle or bridle, so he made a sign, and the mare knelt and let him mount. "Make haste, Lindon," he whispered, "And this time you must carry me toward danger and not away from it, for Death seeks the sons of Elrond and it will find them if we do not!"

 

Lindon snorted, and felt the old, hot blood of her youth once more, and she sped through the woods as fiercely as in the days when she had carried Glorfindel into glory and battle.

 

And it was well for the sons of Elrond and their companions that she did so, for they had indeed found themselves in dire straits. Arms and clothing, and their wits cast aside, they had been taken unawares until the last second by the party of orcs stealing silently upon them. It would have gone ill for them, too, except that, no sooner had the orcs burst upon them from one side of the clearing, than there was a high, bone chilling shriek from the other side, and a lumpen figure in grey upon a pale horse charged straight for the main party of orcs, scattering them between the horse's raised hoofs, and a deadly rain of what appeared to be darts, or small arrows. By that time, the others had gathered their weapons, and the orcs took flight, leaving a few wounded and one dying, in their wake.

 

The Lords Elladan and Ellrohir were neither dead nor maimed, but it had been a very close thing, and they could not believe their Elven eyes when the figure slid from the horse and the grey Lorien cloak fell about its feet and a very small and very, very frightened boy put down his bow. His eyes rested first upon the Elf Twins, and then upon the figure of Ladronur, whom they were holding between them.

 

As the Twins laid their old friend down near the fire, Elladan shook his head, "He is beyond our aid, I think he would be beyond even Father's aid." The southern woman stood near, and also shook her head.

 

Estel crept close to them and whispered, "But, it may be that I can ease his pain. Lord Elrond has said that a plant may be a weed in the hand of one, and a healing herb in the hand of another, and I have had good luck with this – " he took a leather pouch from around his neck, poured out its contents and kneaded it between his small fingers, and pressed it into a gaping wound in the old Ranger's chest.

 

Ladronur gasped, and smiled a little, "It smells – like a tea my mother used to make when I was but a lad. A sweet tea – " his breath rattled in his throat, "Who – who are you, boy?"

 

"I am called Estel. I live in Rivendell."

 

"I thank you, Estel."

 

Seeing that the man was about to die, Ellrohir pulled Estel away.

 

Ladronur clutched at Elladan's hand, "Estel . . Rivendell." he whispered. "ESTEL! Then, rumor has lied, and there is yet hope for the Dunedain!"

 

"Yes," Elladan replied, "And you have seen him."

 

His old friend tried to laugh, "Here, I have said – for these last years - I had lived – too long – now, how I wish – I had - lived – to see - ", and with that last thought, his breath left him. The southern woman knelt down then, and closed his eyes, and kissed his forehead.

 

"He was a kind man, and a good man," she sighed, and began to gather her things.

 

"But you, Lady, where will you go?" asked Ellrohir, still holding Estel close.

 

"A lady, I am not, and that is my good fortune, for I will take my man's horse, and I will make my way back to my people without the need of a lord's aid."

 

Elladan had scooped up the coins that had fallen in the short-lived but deadly little skirmish, and pressed them upon the woman. "These were ours, or his – if ours, lost fairly, if his, he had no one to leave them to save you."

 

"I thank you," she turned then to Estel, "And you, little one – too brave and too wise for your years – " she took off a leather thong she wore in place of a necklace, a thong with a silver token, and placed it over Estel's head. "The roads may take you to far Harad some day – who knows? And it may be that you will need the aid of my tribe. They will treat you as a brother." She kissed Estel's forehead.

 

"But, lady, how will they know you without your token?"

 

"Little one, do not worry - I have ways of making myself known. Fare you well!"

 

She rode off into the night, and the Lords Ellrohir and Elladan stared glumly at each other. Their old friend lay dead, and either one or the other, or both of them would have been lying beside him, had it not been for the child that their father had left in their charge.

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Chapter 7 – Sons

 

It was some little time before the Twins could set forth for the safety of Rivendell. There were somber farewells to be said to their erst-while gambling companions, most of whom were Rangers, and help to be offered in wrapping the body of Ladronur for his final journey. There were the remains of several orcs to be returned to the earth.

 

And, belatedly, when they noticed that his teeth were chattering, there was need to set Estel close by the fire, and to find some of the unspilt spirits from their ill-fated diversions, to heat them, water them down, and give them to the child in small sips, until warmth returned to him. And there were a few questions to be posed, if not answered:

 

"L-lord Ellro-hhir, what becomes of the orcs when – they die? Do they pass to the Halls of Mandos, bearing their evil there?"

 

"We do not know, Estel," sighed Ellrohir, "It has been said that there is a Dark Hall, and that there is a choice to be made there, but more, we know not." He saw the child shudder. "Estel," he said softly, "These creatures know only darkness and destruction. Left to their own devices, they prey on each other if they see no common enemy."

 

"And yet, I am s-sure that even they – prize their own lives, such as they are."

 

"Estel," said Elladan gently, "You have killed before. You have hunted other creatures."

 

"But, we take only what we need, to live, and we honor those creatures when we take their lives. There should be no need for this, and there is – no honor in such slaughter."

 

Ellrohir and Elladan stared at each other over the child's head, and finally Elladan said grimly, "Lord Elrond would tell you that, no there should be no need for this. And yet, I say, there is need, since these creatures would not suffer us to live unless in, such, conditions of – filth, and – torment – that we would not wish for life."

 

"I am sorry, Lord Elladan, " Estel replied, "I know you have cause to hate these beings, and it is true, they are full of malice and to kill them is to end their evil, but – "

 

"But, you are right not to take pleasure in such carnage," answered Ellrohir, "The southern woman spoke well, you are too wise for your years." He sighed deeply, recalling other Heirs, and other occasions when Heirs had first drawn orc blood. And many healths had been drunk in the Hall of Fire, along with boasts of battles to come, and always had the Lord Elrond risen quietly and sought his chamber under some pretext. Ellrohir had heard his father whisper, "They were Elves, once," when one Heir had lamented that he could not train his hound to fetch orc heads, and Elladan had roared and slapped his knees. But, like his brother, no number of years in Middle Earth could erase the foul memories of how his mother had looked when her sons had rescued her, and of how thereafter, her smiles had never reached her eyes, and her ready laughter of old had become forced and empty. And, like his brother, though they never spoke of it, Ellrohir ever prayed that, in the Undying Lands, her wounds had been truly healed and her eyes were bright once more. "Let us get you back to Imladris with all speed," he added.

 

They were met first by sentries, and arrived at the House of Elrond barely in time to intercept an armed party that was about to set out in search of them. The first to reach them was the Lady Gilraen, head held high, but white as death as she took her child from them. The second was the Lord Glorfindel, who let his old mare nuzzle at his hand, before she was sent to be stabled and then rewarded richly with apples for her part in the night's affairs. "Lord Elrond will see Estel, when his mother has satisfied herself that her son is unharmed," he declared. "He – has no desire to see or speak with his own sons."

 

Ellrohir and Elladan gazed blankly ahead, as they repaired silently to their quarters, where the Lord Glorfindel joined them shortly, bearing food and wine.

 

"He is angry, and with just cause," Elladan was the first to speak.

 

"One of the less ale-addled Rangers had the wit to ride and give the alarm, lest other orc parties were abroad." And, to the Twins' astonishment, the Elf Lord grinned broadly, "The one band had left with much more haste and noise than in their stealthy arrival. They were heard to bitterly lament that their masters had failed to warn them that the terrible Elf Witch had set a fearsome, headless Wraith to guard her kinfolk. One which rode a Ghost Horse, and was armed with poisoned darts."

 

"It was Estel, bundled in a Lorien cloak which hid his stature, " Ellrohir sighed. "And, yes, the sounds he made were truly blood-curdling. You will recall the occasion on which Father said that 'our idiocy had infected even you', when you tried to demonstrate the sound of a Nazgul for Estel? Evidently Estel recalled it, as well."

 

"Ah, and as the creatures kill and eat any of their beasts that can no longer serve their purposes, no doubt they thought Lindon dead when I began riding Talathoron." He laughed aloud, "And, after your – misadventure – my friend Ellrohir, Estel had taken to dipping his arrows in a salve of kingsfoil, as a precaution, should another of them – go astray. It would seem that kingsfoil disagrees mightily with orc kind!"

 

Both Twins were able to manage smiles.

 

"I think your father must know," Glorfinal began, "That in truth he came too close to losing his sons – "

 

"I pray he does not," interjected Elladan, "It was a bitter blow to lose our mother, one he never speaks of, far better that he rage royally over our failings than that he dwell on losses, past or present." He paused and continued, darkly, " It would but weaken him, and we, and Estel will need all of his strength in the days to come."

 

"Ingwe, Finwe, and Elwe!", Ellrohir started, "He's been hit by the Foresight of our Race!"

 

And Ellrohir was hit in his turn by a ripe peach hurled by his brother.

 

Interlude: Elf Lords

 

In the late hours of the night, the Master of Rivendell summoned the Lord Glorfindel to his chamber. The Lord Elrond offered his guest a cup of wine, and sipped from his own. "My Lord, I am deeply disturbed by these events," he began.

 

"Lord Elrond, I believe your sons are truly repentant."

 

"They are always truly repentant, and an escapade with foul drink, roistering company, and ridiculous wagers was long overdue," he gave a short laugh, "I look forward to Estel asking them to teach him to gamble. No doubt it will end in the child's relieving them of most of their possessions.

 

"No, I am concerned that the orcs would dare to show themselves so close to the borders of Imladris, and that this attack on my sons, like the attempts to find and kill the Heir of Isildur on the road, was so cleverly orchestrated."

 

"You fear that some Ranger has betrayed us?"

 

"No, but I do fear their lack of discretion, especially when in their cups, and more so now, for it cannot be only poor Ladronur who has suspected Estel's identity. And moreover - the foresight of our race has failed me for once in the matter of Estel. Not only could I not sense his foiling of this attack – and it was well for us all that he had his Lorien bow - but it would seem that there is yet another threat, and one that may prove far more dangerous than any orc, or any army of orcs."

 

The Lord Elrond described the dream that Estel had related to him.

 

"My Lord Elrond, it but proves that Estel does have the gift of foresight, for evidently he saw clearly that your sons were in danger."

 

"And what of the darkness, and the voice from within it, that awakened the boy?"

 

"A child's dream, perhaps, an exaggeration?"

 

"No, this darkness exists, and it is a darkness my thoughts cannot penetrate, for I have bent them upon it, and can see only the dark, and that there is indeed a form within it. But no more than that."

 

"Your sons referred to a similar darkness, and forms within it, that their grandmother had also seen - My Lord, surely you cannot think it is the Dark Lord himself?"

 

"Had it been the Dark Lord and had he taken shape once more, he could not have concealed his form from Galadriel. No, it is something else, and, truly, I fear it."

 

"Lord Elrond, perhaps we should take your sons into our confidence."

 

"No, I will not, and I pray you do not. It is a bittersweet thing, these friendships between my sons and our mortal friends, and though they do not speak of it, a blow to them each time they lose these friends to death. Far better that they concern themselves with my wrath for their failure to protect little Estel from dangers known than that they share my fear of the as yet unknown. That would but weaken them, and we and Estel will have need of their strength in the days to come – that much, my foresight has made plain.

 

The Lord Glorfindel smiled a little, but replied merely, "My foresight reveals that the morning which is rapidly approaching will prove singularly unpleasant for the Heirs of Imladris." He raised his cup in a silent toast to the unfortunates.

 

Lord Elrond raised his in return, sighed, and drank deeply.

 

Interlude (continued) - Elf Lord and Sons

 

It was, indeed, a singularly unpleasant morning. When Elladan and Ellrohir were summoned to their father's chamber, he received them with his back turned.

 

"So. It has come to this. That the sons of the Master of Rivendell and the grandsons of a Princess of the Noldor, neither content with partaking of atrocious and poisonous concoctions – and it will go ill for you if even one single vessel of such noisome brew remains in your rooms – nor satisfied with the squandering of gold and silver only - were pleased to disport themselves in the company of a wench far more adept at fleecing – 'punters'?!? – is that not the word which in the Common Speech describes senseless, frivolous wastrels bent upon losing all that they possess!?! – than they themselves were adept at keeping their fine garments upon their worthless backs? Or perhaps the reports I have received were misleading, and there is another explanation for the champions of Imladris being caught half-clad and less than half-witted by orcs stumbling through the woods on our very border without discovery or challenge? Was the valor of the Heir of Isildur wasted, the sons of Elrond being in no danger, save that of being relieved of the rest of their coins and raiment, tales of their miserable skills at dicing having reached even the ears of the orcs, who are known to participate in these games of chance with as much fervor as my sons?"

 

"Father – that is untrue, and unjust!"

 

Elrond rounded on his heir, "It is untrue, Elladan, then, that you basely deserted a sleeping child, a child under your supposed protection? And it is unjust, then, that I upbraid you because, in fact, it was the child who protected you?"

 

"I – we – " Elladan for once was unable to formulate a defense.

 

"It may be true," his brother was white as death, "That we foolishly exposed ourselves to danger. Well you know that it was a deadly peril, and well you know that it is not the first time we have so exposed ourselves, foolishly, fool-hardily, or otherwise. But we never meant to place the child in harm's way. And I know not whether to be more ashamed of our stupidity, or more proud of Estel's quick wits and courage. For it is largely to us that Estel has looked for guidance." He hesitated, and his brother finished his thought.

 

"Unworthy as we have proven ourselves of his trust. We – we expect that you will remove Estel – from our care –"

 

"And be assured that I would do so this instant, save for the fact that it would break the boy's heart, and he has suffered loss enough in his young life." Elrond fixed his gaze upon them and smiled, thinly, and not without some degree of malice. "You may take your leave now, and you may think on the explanations, and the reassurances you will offer to the Lady Gilraen this evening."

 

Interlude (concluded): A Mother's Fears

 

The Lady Gilraen, deep in the confidence of the Master of Imladris, had received the Twins with icy dignity, and had listened to their flood of self-recriminations, the praises they heaped upon her son, and their vows of reform with an air of aloof disinterest more suited to their Noldor grandparent than to a daughter of Men. And she dismissed them with a curt, "Fine words, my fine Lords, but today I count myself fortunate not to be 'Lady Erewen' in fact."

 

When his sons had left, crestfallen, Lord Elrond stepped from behind a tapestry and took the now trembling woman into his embrace, "Well done, My Lady, and well deserved!"

 

"Lord Elrond," Gilraen sighed, "Your sons are still young for their race, and all young creatures have their moments of recklessness and thoughtlessness – I know that they would die for my son, and indeed, it was Estel who placed himself in danger. I – fear for all of them."

 

"We cannot shield them overlong, My Lady, we can but attempt to arm them with the knowledge and the skills to protect themselves."

 

"My Lord, I am confidant that your sons will prove exemplary guardians for Estel, that is, -"

 

"For at least the present," Lord Elrond smiled broadly.

 

"But, I have another concern. It, it is – Estel. He has been repeating verses of the Lay of the Death of Elendil, and, he has taken to playing with the wooden sword that in the past he has spurned as naught but a toy. And, My Lord, I have found him far too often staring at the shards of Narsil."

 

"And it is not too many more months until his birthday. Manwe protect us! I need no foresight to see a sword in the child's future."

 

"Surely, he would not ask – for Narsil?"

 

"Surely, he will not, if the Lord Glorfindel takes care to explain to him that that sword is reserved for Isildur's heir alone," Lord Elrond coughed, and continued, "And that it is not fitting that any sword of renown be presented to an untried warrior, Elf or Mortal. Else I fear he would ask for a sword out of Gondolin, for indeed, he has also been repeating verses of the Flight of Tuor and Idril."

 

"Perhaps the Lord Glorfindel could – extol the virtues of – blunt swords?"

 

Lord Elrond sighed deeply, "Then, my dearest Gilraen, no doubt your son would give up the idea of swords at all," He shook his head at her hopeful expression, and added, "And ask instead for a fine, edged, Dwarven battle-axe!"

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Chapter 8 – Sword Play Commences

 

Estel did indeed ask for a sword for his ninth birthday, "A real sword, but a sword suited to practice, and to my size," Glorfindel having done his work well. But of course the gift of the sword necessitated instruction in its use, and that is where, once again, the inconvenience of the father's munificence fell upon the Sons of Elrond.

 

After a month or two, the Master of Rivendell had noted the uncharacteristically bleak expression upon the face of the Twin somewhat less skilled at dissembling.

 

"Ellrohir, what is amiss?" He demanded. "Is your pupil becoming as discouraged as his predecessors? That would not be a wonder, for in learning this art, Estel has not the advantage of a trained if capricious warhorse or an ensorcelled bow."

 

"I fear it is my brother and myself who are disheartened. Estel – is so little! And he is so eager, and he works so diligently."

 

"Estel is well grown for his age! And should he be a lackadaisical sluggard?"

 

"Father, he has nine years! The other Heirs we have trained have had four years more – and though that may have no meaning to the Eldar, it is half again the entire span of Estel's life thus far! And those other Heirs knew their lineage full well, gloried in it to a most unseemly degree, and thought themselves little Berens or little Elendils, because their playfellows deferred to them. It was rare sport to – prove to them that no lays would be sung about their feats in battle, until they had learned to set aside their 'Numenorean pride' – you will recall Arassuil, Father! His 'Numenorian pride' had to be beaten out of him with the flat of my blade!"

 

The words "equally unseemly sport, "died on Elrond's tongue, as he did recall the manner in which that particular young scion had strutted into Imladris, as if the sons of Elrond had been lackeys set to "polish" his incomparable skills at arms. And also that his father, Arahad, the second of that name, had said privately, "I pray that your sons may school mine, as they schooled me, for I fear I have failed with the boy."

 

"We cannot treat Estel as we have treated the others. We cannot push him, we cannot prod him, for he already will strive until he drops in his tracks. If we praise him, he frowns and says he has over-much to learn, and then berates himself for his clumsiness."

 

"As I have stated my son, this was to be expected for his other accomplishments came to him far too easily, with more than ordinary assistance."

 

Ellrohir forebore to ask baldly who it was who gave the boy a mighty warhorse and a magic bow, but his father read his thoughts, raised an eyebrow menacingly, and Elladan spoke hastily aloud, "He had no extraordinary aid in the matter of woodcraft and tracking - for he that is able to hide from the entire household of Imladris at will is in turn well able to find other small creatures in their places of concealment."

 

Elrond's expression altered and Ellrohir exclaimed, "My Lord, it was you who fell upon the idea of the orange cloak!"

 

"I – may have suggested it, to his mother."

 

"Well done! But the little imp has still undiscovered places of concealment –" He broke off, suddenly wondering if those places were truly "undiscovered". "In any event," he continued, "although, yes, this may be well enough for the development of Estel's character – "

 

"That would seem to be the only consideration, my son. Would it not?"

 

"No – that, is, yes! Or, but –" Ellrohir suddenly wore a smile best described as sickly and insinuating. "Certainly, Father, there would be no other consideration, not, considering that the consideration is, would be, the character of the Heir of Isildur."

 

He left hastily, thinking that it had been another narrow escape and wondering anxiously how he could explain it to his Twin, and his father watched him leave, thinking that there would shortly be more devilry afoot in Rivendell, and wondering idly what form it might take.

 

Interlude – Swordplay Gives Way to Strategy

 

"Will you never learn?!?" Elladan seethed, "The essence of strategy is to take advantage of the opportunity of the moment."

 

"I fear that would more correctly be 'tactics', would it not? And the less said about your strategy, the better, if you will recall the subject of Noldors and their flights?!"

 

"Do not quibble, and admit, you let the moment pass, and, in addition, that strategy would have worked, had not the opponent been that very Noldor who led her people through that flight, and – Do not think to distract me! You should have mentioned our dilemma."

 

"Oh, and then asserted that the consideration of the discomfort occasioned in constant sword practice with someone of a stature such that his opponents have need to bend over to fight him should outweigh the consideration of the advantages of the aforesaid sword practice in strengthening the character of the Heir of Isildur?!?"

 

"My dear Ellrohir, that was – almost coherent."

 

"My dear Elladan, I would rather listen again to the litany of every single grievance in the feuds of the Noldor than to defend that position with Father!"

 

Elladan snorted.

 

"Well, almost would I rather. And, pray, do not make that unbecoming noise again."

 

"Since you failed to seize the moment, what are we to do? Dig trenches to stand in?"

 

It was Ellrohir's turn to make an unbecoming noise. "That would expose us to the ridicule of every single inhabitant of Imladris."

 

"Then let them take their turns fighting an opponent as diminutive as he is relentless!"

 

"Elladan, let me be the first to caution you that that expression is more suited to a surly half-breed orc than an Heir of Imladris."

 

"If you must ape Father, then allow me to point out that a term such as 'half-breed' shows a distressing lack of breeding in its user, as Father would no doubt inform you."

 

"Then he would also inform you that the proper usage would be 'to use a term such as 'half-breed' is to exhibit a distressing lack of breeding'"

 

"Then, it should have been 'to an Heir of Imladris' as well as 'to a surly – "

 

"Enough! This is not solving our dilemma."

 

"My dear Ellrohir, I had hit upon the solution several exchanges ago."

 

"Then perhaps you would be kind enough to share it, if indeed you hit it."

 

"Upon it, Twin, hit upon it."

 

"My fist will hit upon something – and if you dare to say it is hit something and not upon it, I will hit –"

 

"We cannot reduce our stature – statures – but we can provide Estel with an opponent whose stature more nearly corresponds to his own. An opponent of nigh inexhaustible stamina, as well." Elladan paused. "And I must maintain that – 'point out' is a common expression suited to the kitchen – "

 

"It was you who used 'point out', not I – "

 

"That blank expression is more suited to a – But, hold! It is indeed suited to the measure of your intellect – " He took a swift step backward, as his Twin advanced with both fists raised.

 

However, Ellrohir froze in his tracks. "By his own long beard! Hudin! Now, this is strategy indeed! But, it will cost us."

 

"It will cost – us – little enough. The fame of Elrond's table has reached his ears."

 

The Twins grinned at each other, their expressions more suitable to Halflings contemplating third breakfasts than to specimens of the Fairest and Wisest of Beings engaging in subtle stratagems.

 

Interlude: A Midnight Conversation

 

The introduction of a Dwarf into the House of Elrond was accomplished quite smoothly, at the outset. There was some astonishment, it is true, that the stocks in the capacious larders and pantries of Rivendell came to diminish unaccountably. Unaccountably, that is, to all but the Master of the House, and his sons.

 

Lord Elrond was accustomed to keeping late hours, and it was not unknown for him to wander into his own kitchens at need, and without disturbing the rest of the household. On one such occasion, his attention was caught by an exceptionally rude, and exceptionally loud, noise emanating from one of the pantries. About to investigate, he stopped in his tracks when he heard the Heir of Isildur giggling, most uncharacteristically.

 

"Hudin, how do you make that noise?"

 

"Now, Estel, you canna' convince me you haven't made that very noise yourself, being but a wee mortal lad, and not a mincing, finicking, nose-in-the-airean - - - - - - - - "

 

"I have, but - I cannot make it at will, and what does ' - - - - - - - -' mean?"

 

"Have some more of this magnificently aged cheese, and I'll show you how to make a resounding belch, and, er, em – the other is an old Khazad term – of endearment, mind you, for those specimens of elegance you live with. Lad, have I told you yet, you have the fine, keen ear ? But, don't repeat it in their hearing, em, that is to say, don't repeat it at all."

 

Lord Elrond, who was one of the very few of the Eldar to have studied the history and lore of the Dwarfs, was quite familiar with their ancient trading language (their true language they had never imparted to anyone not a Dwarf). The trading language was composed almost entirely of insulting, suggestive, and otherwise highly offensive terms for Men, Elves, and other assorted beings. (It was rumored that the term "Dwarf-tossing" had entered the Common Speech from the observed result of an Ent discovering the meaning of the trade term for "Shepherd of the Trees", of which "root-bound" was the most polite portion.) He was about to enter the pantry and inform this Hudin that there was one Elf Lord who knew exactly what '- - - - - - - -' meant, and also, after listening to the Dwarf belch, and the child imitate him, add that '- - - - - - - -- - - - - - - !!' could be applied to uncouth Dwarven guests, when, again, he was stopped by Estel's voice.

 

"Master Hudin, I have noticed that that is how you introduce yourself, as 'Hudin'?", he paused, and added, "'Hudin' – only?"

 

"Right you are, laddie, 'Hudin' I am, and 'Hudin' I'll die. No 'Son of' – look you, I did not spring up out of a hole, but I had a falling out, these many years past, and there's no father who'd have owned me, or I him, for that matter."

 

"Oh, Master Hudin, I too am no 'Son of''. I know of no falling out, but all I know of my father is that, they say I may learn something of him, when the time comes."

 

"Well, laddie, you do know more than that – "

 

"I have thought perchance it was the man with the arrow in his eye. I remember the sight, and my mother's face, and I should remember more – "

 

"Boy, whoever he may have been, you know that he was a fine man. Else, he could not have produced you, and else, your lady mother would not have chosen him, and held to that choice these many years. Had she an eye for another suitor, by all the Moria silver above ground, Lord Elrond would have to triple his guards, to keep the bastards – em, er - the contenders - out of Rivendell."

 

"You think so?"

 

"Aye, your Men are not like us – a Dwarf woman will make her choice, ill as it may be, and hold to it, and never look at another Dwarf, even should her choice want no part of her. But a smart woman of your kind, lad, and your mother is sharp as she can stare, make no mistake – a fine thing when the lady of the stillroom knows to a drop the alcohol content in each of her infusions, and doles them out in thimble-fulls – eh, ignore that – where was I! Ah, yes, a woman like your mother, if your father had been a ne-er do well, or of that stripe, as soon as she was rid of him, she'd have found you a fine step father. It's a wonder she's not still wearing widow's weeds."

 

Estel sighed, "I think, left to her own devices, she would be. It was I, who wished to see her otherwise."

 

"And here's to you, laddie!" Hudin let out a truly epic belch, and Estel made a valiant effort to copy it. "Aye, a fine attempt, but you'd need some of this excellent ale to rival the Master, boy – in any event, your lady mother in that gown of purple velvet, would she only smile, any Man with red blood in'is veins would follow her to the Halls of Mandos, and be breaking down its door, let alone – Eh, what's that! Sound the retreat, lad – scamper out the back!"

 

Lord Elrond had thought it politic to make a slight noise in the hall, and he smiled thinly as he heard the clatter of victuals rapidly put away and the padding of large, and little feet hastening away.

 

Chapter 9 – Swordplay Ends Abruptly

 

Despite the unheard of depredations upon Lord Elrond's stock of provisions, for the next several weeks all appeared well in Imladris. The Lords Elladan and Ellrohir had resumed their care-free airs, congratulating Estel publicly on his progress with the sword, and congratulating themselves privately on their acumen in acquiring Hudin's services, as their collective instruction time was now little more than half the time each had been spending attempting to prevent Estel from hurting either themselves, or himself. Each, however, deplored the nicks and bruises Estel was now sporting (and of which he appeared inordinately proud), and each made a few disparaging references to "Dwarven preferences for force over finesse", which when repeated in Hudin's hearing led to muttering in an incomprehensible (to the Twins) language.

 

It was that same language, of course, that led to the next contretemps. To be precise, Hudin had not been able to restrain himself from teaching a few verses to the Ladies Alata and Calenglin, since neither had proven herself averse to some rather robust flirtation, at least when the Master of Rivendell was not in the Hall. Since the verses contained some exceptionally unflattering descriptions of Elves of the male variety, it had struck Hudin as simply too hilarious to pass up, the opportunity of having the verses recited in the presence of the Lords Elladan and Ellrohir (whose attempts at retaliatory flirtations with the same Ladies Hudin had written off as "milk-hearted" and "lily-livered" respectively).

 

And, regrettably, Hudin had seen no harm in encouraging the recitation while the Lord Elrond was present, so certain was he that the Elf Lord was as ignorant of the old trade language as his compeers among the Eldar. It was at the conclusion of the recitation, when Hudin took note of the shade of purple that tinged the Elf Lord's countenance - by a strange coincidence, virtually the same shade that would mar the stalwart features of Thorin Oakenshield, when he was asked by Lord Elrond if he was acquainted with one Hudin – but that is another story – that Hudin hastily reconsidered.

 

"Ah, em, that was a sparkling, and vivacious, effort, but it seems the ladies – may have mistaken a word or two," he had begun.

 

"Unless, indeed, they have mistaken each and every one of the words, it is an effort that is not suitable for this company. Or in any company whatsoever, save perhaps that of - - - - - - - - - - - - - -s."

 

Hudin's eyes had started from his head at the Lord Elrond's accurate use of an old term describing a cross between an orc and the female progeny of Ungoliant.

 

Neither was particularly amused as they found themselves shouting in unison, "Do not repeat that, Estel!" as the boy opened his mouth.

 

"Let us have no more recitations for the present," Lord Elrond concluded with great dignity. "Perhaps Estel will favor us with a demonstration of the lesson in swordsmanship he has learned most recently. And, no doubt Master Hudin will be pleased to favor us with his opinion of Elven swordplay."

 

Having thus prevented Master Hudin from making a stealthy exit, Lord Elrond called upon the Lord Elladan to assist Estel in the demonstration, thus discomfiting his son, who, of course, had no idea whatsoever what Hudin had taught Estel most recently. And thus, also greatly amusing Lord Elladan's brother, for the same cause.

 

Elf and boy exchanged a few harmless thrusts and parries, to polite approbation. And then Lord Elladan started, as Estel stared blankly, and seemingly panic-stricken, at a spot somewhat over the Elf Twin's left shoulder. And, when he turned to look, Elladan suddenly found himself falling headlong, having slipped upon a few spherical objects that somehow wound up under his feet. And then, Estel's small sword was at his throat.

 

"Well done, Oh, well done!!! Better by far than – "

 

"Ellrohir, you will take your seat!" Lord Elrond roared. "That was a low trick, Estel, suited to brawling in ale houses and broth – eh - brawling in other haunts of sodden vermin! And it is a trick you never learned from either of my sons."

 

He stared wrathfully at each in turn, "For had you learned it from Elladan, Elladan would have been proof against it. And had Ellrohir known such a trick, an hour would not have gone by ere he had tried it on his brother, and, again, Elladan could not have been taken in by you! How did you come by this example of low and villainous cunning, and how did you dare exhibit it in this Hall?"

 

Hudin was on his feet, and began to bluster, "You need not bully the boy –"

 

"HOLD. YOUR. TONGUE."

 

The Dwarf was about to discourse on the subject of courtesy in Elven Halls, but Estel shot him a look and shook his small head almost imperceptibly.

 

"My Lord Elrond," said the boy, "You DID ask to see what I had learned most recently."

 

The Lord Ellrohir barely stifled a snicker.

 

"And, it was Master Hudin who taught me the trick. Master Hudin, like myself, has not the protection of his own house and lineage, and I think he knows well what it is like to earn his bread in dubious company, and to frequent the places where such company assembles, out of necessity and not desire."

 

"How old is this child?" Hudin muttered, and shook his head.

 

"Is it not meet that Master Hudin should show me how to conduct myself in such places, and such company, since I cannot forever presume upon your generosity, My Lord?" For once, it was the Lord Elrond who was silent.

 

"Moreover," Estel continued, "Is it not meet that he should teach me a trick to disarm a foolish – or, rather, say, an - overconfident opponent without harming him?"

 

Lord Elrond smiled thinly, "Master Dwarf, could these be the reasons for such disgraceful tutelage?"

 

Hudin grinned broadly, "Aye, Lord Elf, that they – could."

 

"We will continue this discussion, in my chamber." Lord Elrond strode from the Hall,

and, when his keen ears caught Lord Ellrohir whispering to his supposed pupil, he added, over his shoulder, "Let my household resume their evening's entertainment, without benefit of further foul language or knavery – and, My Lord Ellrohir, should Estel agree to show you how he palmed those disgraceful objects, rest assured I will relieve him of them – forthwith!"

 

Interlude – The Dwarf Departs

 

"My hospitality has limits," Lord Elrond wasted no time in reaching his point.

 

"Aye, and it is plain that I have overstayed my welcome. However, there is the matter, of m' fee!"

 

"YOUR FEE?!"

 

"A chest full of gold, as yon son of yours promised," Hudin made a grandiose gesture.

 

Lord Elrond raised an eyebrow.

 

"Or, that would be, more in the line of a – coffer of gold – " Hudin made a somewhat smaller gesture.

 

Lord Elrond's other eyebrow joined the first.

 

"Oh, very well, then – they promised me a few gold coins, and all I could eat."

 

"In the matter of the latter part of your fee, I would imagine you should consider yourself well paid indeed, as my hunters have been run off their legs, and we have had need to breach the stores reserved for emergency for the first time – "

 

"Man, you have enough to withstand a siege laid by Melkor himself –"

 

"And as to the former part of your fee," Lord Elrond continued as though he had not been rudely interrupted, "If the tools of your trades, whatever those may be, and I do not wish to know, include dice, then no doubt you are already in possession of all the gold coins available to my sons."

 

"Several times over, bless them – seeing as how I had to work like an Umbar slave to lose them back to the fine gentlemen, or we'd've had no more play – eh, and that's not counting a few lost for good to that little scamp, who'd have thought he'd have the nerve to double switch –" he broke off abruptly.

 

"Another valuable lesson in the art of meeting scoundrels on terms of equality?" When Hudin did not answer, Lord Elrond added, "You have named no price for your silence."

 

"Silence regarding the unbecoming knowledge of ancient Dwarven insults on the part of the Master of Rivendell? Or silence in the matter of the existence of little minxes among the stately ladies of Elf Kind?"

 

Elrond's expression did not change, and Hudin sighed, "Silence, regarding the lad. Ye've done well, mind you, to keep him hidden, him and his lady mother. If ever there was a woman made to sit on a throne, with "the Fair" appended to her name, it's your lonely lady. And, though it made the lump that passes for m'heart ache to hear his tale, it's as well the boy's to wait to learn of his heritage. Too much brooding over past glories, and lost treasures, and fancying one's self a high king in exile can blight a life and make one old and bitter before'is time. Not to mention making one a great thumping bore and a prosing plague to all around'im. What one might call 'Oakenheaded'! "

 

Hudin laughed uproariously, and slapped his knee at his own joke. Elrond did not.

 

"And how such a somber father could produce that precious pair of twins – Eh, but, back to the lad – he's a good boy, a tad stubborn, mind you, makes m'wonder if a drop of Dwarf blood – eh, I reckon not – in the end, probably all to the good, as he's a hard and a long road ahead of him, unless I miss my guess, and it's rare that I do – "

 

"Master Dwarf, is there a point to these ramblings?"

 

"Aye, Master Elf, that there is, and a sharp one. You'd best take care that that boy does not meet up with those who can look 'im in the eye, so to speak. Your high and mighty selves, and your blundering Men are one thing, but put one of our keen-eyed folk next to'im on his own level or thereabouts, and especially if the boy's in a temper – he has one, y'know, though he respects you too much – why is a bit beyond me - to let it out, around you – eh, but I've heard tell of a certain arrow that hit a fine, broad target – "

 

"YOUR POINT?"

 

"Baldly – do not let any of my people see this boy. We Dwarfs may not tell all we know to outsiders, but due to the dearth of Dwarf women, in terms of gossip, the Dwarf men have made a rare stab at taking up the slack. It's been rumored for generations, that the line of the old Sea Kings did not die out in the North, as they did in the South. One look in that boy's grey eyes, and most especially here, in your company, Master Elf, and any Dwarf not a congenital idiot – that would leave out – eh, never mind – would know without asking that he's of the lineage of Elros Tar-Minyatur! Is that plain enough?"

 

"Your people," Elrond said slowly, "Do not in the normal course of events, frequent Imladris."

 

"No, but I have an ear to the ground, know you, and there are hints, and rumblings about the Lonely Mountain, and much strutting about and so forth – not that there haven't been for years, but this time the Oak-Head may well be serious. And 'is most likely route would take 'im right through here."

 

"Your – point, once you reached it, is well taken, Master Dwarf. I will take care to conceal Estel – "

 

"You'd best chain him in a cellar then, since he knows every passage and hidey-hole in Rivendell."

 

"Not quite. But, I am in your debt."

 

"Oh, don't fret about that, man, I'll collect it, and with interest, in due course, from those boys of yours."

 

The Lord Elrond made his formal bow as the Dwarf took his leave, and waited until Hudin was out of earshot, before kicking a footstool the length of the luxurious chamber.

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Chapter 10 – More Regarding Dwarves

 

Dwarfless, daily life in Rivendell returned to normal, or at least to what had come to pass as normal after the introduction of one small son of Men into its formerly dignified precincts. But, of course, another birthday, Estel's tenth, loomed. The Lords Elladan and Ellrohir, separately, attempted to invent pressing matters requiring their attention in remote parts of Middle Earth. Neither, however, was able to withstand a downcast small face and a whispered, "Then – you will – miss – my birthday". Each opined that the other had been jealous of the attention that the boy had shown to Hudin, that the other was basely attempting to curry favor with the child, and asserted that his own reason for remaining in Imladris was that the pressing matters had suddenly, unaccountably, and for no reason relating to sentimental weakness, become markedly less urgent.

 

They were overjoyed when, against all odds, Estel's choice of gift appeared to relieve them for once, of any obligations: "My Lord Elrond," Estel had requested, "I would learn more of Dwarf kind."

 

Since Lord Elrond himself knew more about Dwarves and their lore than any Elf in Middle Earth, save perhaps Galadriel, his sons let out unbecoming sounds, which in a Ranger well along in his cups, would have been described as a "whoop".

 

"Estel, I am encouraged by your desire to pursue knowledge of the other peoples of this Middle Earth, and when my duties permit, I will tutor you myself in the remote history of the Dwarfs. For the moment, I am certain that my sons, who have maintained the more recent acquaintance with these people, will be pleased to assist you. Perhaps they might begin with an account of the Battle of Azanulbizar or Nanduhirion, as it is known to the Eldar, its aftermath, and the reasons that the Elves did not participate. With the exception of two idiot sons of Thranduil, rumored to have ineptly attempted to disguise themselves with false beards, explaining their stature by claiming to have sojourned with the Ents and availed themselves of Ent draughts."

 

"'Anazbizar'? Hudin talked a great deal of it, in fact, I seem to recall that he was actually there, of course, but, you know the Dwarves, there was a great deal of roaring of challenges and insults, and smiting with trusty axes by Nains and Dains and such, though it was Thrain – "

 

"What my brother is attempting to convey with his babbling, " Elladan broke in, "Is that, regrettably, our store of knowledge of this event – is – small. Virtually minute. However, in the matter of challenges and insults, we would be overjoyed to help Estel learn of the nature and history of the Dwarf, trade language, was it? He would no doubt find it more amusing than dry history, and, naturally, we would take care to see that Estel did not learn any – unduly unsuitable terms – "

 

"If, naturally – " Ellrohir could not restrain himself, "We ourselves knew which they were. Which we would, if we could locate the volumes pertaining to the language, which one would expect would be in the library –"

 

"They were removed." Lord Elrond stated. "The Ladies Alata and Calenglin have already inquired as to their whereabouts. They will not be restored." He smiled, not unkindly, "As you appear to favor a linguistic approach to Dwarf lore, you will find several volumes relating to the various forms of Runes, which you may share with Estel."

 

"I would be very interested in learning of Runes," Elrond heard Estel remark, as he left. "But, before that, I would hear more of the Battle – Azanulbizar was the most bloody battle of the recent age, was it not? But the Dwarf houses did prevail against the orcs, and broke their power?"

 

The Master of Rivendell had the satisfaction, such as it was, of hearing his sons join in in a description of that battle so colorful, that he also hear Estel breathe, "Oh, Lords Ellrohir and Elladan – your knowledge is so comprehensive one would fancy you were there yourselves!"

 

Dwarves and Trolls - An Unpleasant Interlude

 

Regrettably, it was Dwarves, or rather the prospect of Dwarves, that led to a singularly unhappy, if not entirely unforeseen, occurrence not too many weeks after Estel's birthday.

 

It had come forcibly to the attention of Lord Elrond that a trio of Trolls had taken up residence near the road to Rivendell and were making more than a nuisance of themselves in the area, when his sons departed on a sportive Troll hunt, disguised as hapless passers-by and unaware that they were being tracked by a small figure. After intercepting the three, the Master of Rivendell had sent a party out to warn any approaching visitors and was attempting to explain to Estel that, despite the fact that there were three Trolls, he would not be permitted to join the hunt to make up a corresponding trio of hunters, and that neither Elladan nor Ellrohir would be permitted to hunt Trolls at all if they could not guarantee that Estel would not follow them.

 

Before the various and exhaustive objections to Lord Elrond's position were fully heard, and replied to, the matter was rendered moot as the warning party returned with the exciting news that the Trolls had been neatly disposed of, and that the disposal party, consisting of a dozen or more Dwarves, a Wizard, and an odd little Halfling were on their way to the bridge.

 

"Ellrohir, Elladan, you will indeed go hunting, but not for Trolls, and you will depart immediately, " Lord Elrond ordered. "And you will take Estel. And you will not say one word."

 

Although his sons judged their father's expression correctly and hastened to obey, Estel for once displayed both his stubbornness, and his temper. "My Lord, I will not go with them, and you may not order me to go with them, for it was you who promised that I might learn more of Dwarf kind, and here there are Dwarves, many Dwarves, at our very doorstep, and –"

 

"And, yes you will go with Lords Ellrohir and Elladan – whether you choose to go as part of their party, or as their baggage – you will go! You were granted exactly what you asked to receive. You have learned a great deal more about Dwarf kind, and you will learn a great deal more in due course and nothing was spoken of or promised regarding learning of these people in their presence. Now, get you gone – all of you, and do not return until you are sent for." With that, the Master turned on his heel and strode away.

 

Estel's eyes were suspiciously bright.

 

"Do not take it so hard," Ellrohir said softly, and moved to dry the boy's eyes.

 

"I am not – I will not – "he sniffed, "It is only that I am sorry that Lord Elrond – is ashamed of me."

 

"Ashamed of you?!?"

 

"It is clear he does not wish these Dwarves to see me."

 

"Oh, is that all?" Elladan laughed. "My dear child, it is WE whom Lord Elrond does not wish these Dwarves to see!"

 

"What?!?" both Estel and Ellrohir were dumbfounded.

 

"My idiot brother, and myself."

 

"IDIOT?!?"

 

"Yes, idiot – he knows." Elladan heaved a long-suffering sigh, and continued, as if he were addressing two children. "Was it not apparent from his use of the very word?"

 

"What word?"

 

"'Idiot', idiot."

 

"Elladan, I will do you bodily harm – "

 

"Do you not recall Father referring to "two idiot sons of Thranduil"? When during this age has Father ever allowed such a slighting reference to ANY of the Eldar in his presence?"

 

"Well, all of Thranduil's sons are idiots, save for the youngest, who at the least shows promise, and Father has often referred to US as – By Ancalagon's teeth! He DOES know!"

 

Ellrohir turned to the puzzled Estel and explained. "It – was not the sons of Thranduil, who joined the Dwarves of the Seven Houses at the battle of Azanulbizar. Although the disguise, which was my brother's idea, was inept – "

 

"That it was, and your recollection, is, as ever, imperfect, since the suggestion was yours –"

 

"Truly, you were there and fought with the Dwarves, though all of the greatest of the Eldar had expressly forbade it?" Estel's eyes were shining quite differently.

 

"Yes, no power within the Circles of the World could have stopped us – they wished revenge for the dishonor to their own people, we wished revenge for the torment of our mother."

 

"When we were discovered, Thorin – who is now known as Oakenshield, from that battle –"

 

"From when his shield was shattered by a mighty orc blow, and he cut a limb of oak, and – "

 

"Yes, yes, child. Thorin allowed us to fight alongside him, and surely recognized us, though we had the wit to claim then that we were from the Woodland Realm."

 

"Which we were, in a manner of speaking."

 

"Loosely defined."

 

Estel giggled, "You meant, that you had passed through the Woodland Realm, at some point in time."

 

"Yes, and so it was not common knowledge that we had defied Father, and although it appears that Father knew all along it is evident that he does not wish this bruited about."

 

And so, in the end, Estel went with the Twins, peppering them with so many questions about the battle, that they were far from Elrond's House before he recalled his disappointment in not meeting the Dwarves.

 

Interlude – Runes and Rue

 

Although Estel had had to content himself with vague, and highly unsatisfactory descriptions of the party of visitors (except for the magnificent Thorin Oakenshield, and one particularly – sizeable - Dwarf whose name if not girth, escaped them, the inhabitants of Rivendell had not really been able to tell one Dwarf from another and had been more interested in the Wizard, an old friend, and the oddity of a Halfling accompanying the Dwarves) he appeared to have held no hard feelings in the matter of his ill-timed temporary exile from the household. Both Elladan and Ellrohir, however, had some misgivings, especially after seeing Estel heave a huge sigh over missing the opportunity to examine the famed blades out of Gondolin which Thorin and the Wizard had liberated from the Trolls' horde.

 

"I fear I must inure myself to the pain of being cheated by the ironies of fate," the boy had intoned darkly, "Such being the lot of the Sons of Men and their Bitter Doom."

 

"I told you to take that volume of 'The Sorrows of Turin Turambar' away from him," Elladan had remarked, with a shake of his head.

 

"Never hurt me," his Twin replied blithely.

 

"As you never read all of it – and you're not a Son of Men."

 

"Yes, technically, we are, as a matter of fact."

 

"Don't let Father hear that –"

 

"Estel!" They cried in unison. "Don't repeat that."

 

"Why have you not been studying the ancient Dwarf runes, as you were assigned to do?"

 

"I have been, My Lord Elladan - you would not let me practice what I have studied."

 

"Estel, if you continue to hold your lip out in that sullen and petulant manner, know you that a bee will light upon it and sting it, and – " Elladan broke off as Estel began to giggle.

 

"We would never have dared to laugh like that, when Grandmother spoke thus!" Elladan was properly indignant.

 

"For the reason that Grandmother could command the bees," Ellrohir reminded him. "But, Estel, you know it is fortunate that Father did not discover that you sealed our chambers with that Rune spell –"

 

"Only the door, "Estel laughed louder, "You were able to make use of the windows – and, truly, I did not know that I could not remove the Runes until the same day of the next Moon."

 

"My brother, who had charge of your lessons on that occasion evidently overlooked the influence of the Moon - "

 

"Hardly. My brother, who failed to remember that we had exchanged the responsibility for your lessons that week –"

 

"Estel, stop fingering that staff you have cut – "

 

"Estel, are those RUNES on that staff!?!"

 

Interlude (continued) – The Cleansing of the Library

 

The Master of Rivendell was most alarmed when there was a flash of lightning, and a clap of thunder from WITHIN his library. He hastened, with due dignity, but hastened, nonetheless, to the scene to find his sons transfixed by a staff on the floor. Their young charge, hands to his face in distress, was saying, "But – it was meant – to cause – silence, only – "

 

"And so it has!" Elrond picked up the offending object, studied the runes Estel had carved upon it, and demanded, "The book."

 

Estel handed it over, and Elrond examined it, his face darkening. "Elladan, Ellrohir – where had you this volume?"

 

They stared at each other, and Ellrohir ventured, "From a shelf, My Lord Father."

 

"From a shelf, indeed, buffoon!!! One which you could not have reached without the aid of the ladder and one which I expressly warned you not to explore!"

 

Elladan opened his mouth, and then shut it as his father continued, "Do not trouble yourself to venture that it might have fallen, as an apple from a tree. Explain, merely, why, having examined its contents, you allowed Estel to study it."

 

There was dead silence, and finally, it was Estel who ventured, "My Lord, it – has runes in it."

 

"So it does, child. And what is the title of this volume?"

 

"'The Grimoire of Mardin, Apprentice to Radagast, Being a Translation of Certain Spells of the Istari into the Runic'." Estel repeated from memory, adding, "And, My Lord, they work!"

 

"So they do, child. Too well to be used in play. Now, take yourself off – your lessons, such as they have been, are ended for the day, and tomorrow I will begin to teach you of the Seven Houses, the nature of the Seven Rings of power, and the part they played in the downfall of the Houses, for now that, thanks once again to the carelessness of your guardians, you have been exposed to the temptations of magic, you must learn of its dangers and its pitfalls as well."

 

"Thank you, Lord Elrond," Estel bowed his way out of the library.

 

"You have yet to answer my question," Elrond scowled at his sons.

 

"We – that is, yes, we were at fault – our examination of the contents of the volume was – cursory – " Elladan began.

 

"The title alone should have warned you!"

 

"It was in Runic," Ellrohir muttered.

 

"And you did not trouble yourselves even to translate the title! OUT OF MY SIGHT! And send the Lord Glorfindel to me as you leave."

 

"It was in Runic," Elladan repeated, in falsetto and under his breath, "Father is correct – you are a buffoon – "

 

"Without further comment." Elrond ordered.

 

When the Lord Glorfindel joined him, the Master of Imladris was standing high upon the library ladder. "If it pleases you, Lord Glorfindel, let me hand down these volumes – add them to the one upon the table, if you will."

 

The Elf Lord began to read the titles, and then began to laugh, at first softly, and then aloud.

 

"I made the unforgivable error of referring to the ladder, and to a shelf of forbidden volumes, in Estel's hearing," Lord Elrond sighed.

 

"I take it that – the unseasonable internal weather resulted from the volume on the table?"

 

"Examine the staff which I have confiscated. The boy was – ah, - attempting – eh, to reduce my – sons – to silence," Elrond was no longer able to suppress his own laughter.

 

"My Lord, it could have been, - eh, far worse – "

 

"That it could – had it been – my sons – who had had – ah, the initiative – to experiment with that book."

 

"Ah – yes, and then it would – have been – all of us, entering, and leaving our chambers – "

 

"Through the windows, and not the doors!" Elrond finished the thought, and soon both great lords were laughing uncontrollably.

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Chapter 11 – A Lesson Learned Too Well

 

Estel found his lessons with Lord Elrond much more challenging (if less unpredictable) than his former studies. Unaccountably, his former teachers found their newly augmented leisure time much less enjoyable than they had expected. The sport of speculating upon the subject of their father's reactions to Estel's myriad questions soon palled, especially after that formidable Elf Lord had remarked upon the pleasures to be found in answering questions related to intelligent and informed interpretation as opposed to the idle wanderings of unformable minds.

 

"To think of it, a child of his age, reasoning that, if seven rings of power had been gifted to the seven great dwarf houses, then other rings should have been gifted to other races," Elrond had said to Lord Glorfindel, "And, moreover, then asking how it is that the houses of the Eldar remain untainted! Rather than gleefully cataloguing the misdeeds that the ill-bred could perpetrate with such rings!" Catching sight of his sons' expressions, he had laughed scornfully.

 

But those sons were to enjoy a laugh at their father's expense on the occasion of Estel's eleventh birthday.

 

Estel had prefaced his birthday wish by expressing, at some length, his pleasure and satisfaction in learning so much relating to Dwarves, and Lord Elrond had smiled broadly.

 

And then Estel had stated, "And now, I would learn more of the race of Men and -thistimeIwouldlearnthisbybeinginthecompanyofsuchMenasmaybefoundinBreeforIwouldjo

rneytoBreeandvisitThePrancingPonyattheverynextopportunity," spoken rapidly and upon one breath, so that Lord Elrond could not interrupt him with a qualification. And, ignoring Lord Elrond's resulting scowl, he added, "You see, this time I have asked for EXACTLY what I wished to receive."

 

The Lords Elladan and Ellrohir howled with laughter, and laughed even more uproariously when their father asked the child if they had put him up to it.

 

Their amusement turned to consternation when Estel replied, "No, My Lord, indeed they would not have, since my very next opportunity will be in three days, when they set out for Bree for goods, as they invariably do, every fourth moon."

 

"DO THEY?!? And, what are these goods that Imladris stands in such need of that my sons much fetch them with such regularity?!?"

 

Panic-stricken, for the goods were indeed, pipe-weed of several varieties, the Lords Ellrohir and Elladan stared at each other. The words, "miserable, filthy, habit breeding lassitude and indolence" rang in their ears.

 

They were rescued by the most unlikely of saviors, the Master Turancal: "My Lord, there are some few articles used in repairing and maintaining our bows, resin compounds and the like, which may be obtained from Bree – not that we could not make these compounds here in Imladris, but it involves a certain amount of defacement of our trees."

 

"Ah, then, yes, better that we spare the trees. However, Estel, such a journey would prove tedious for a child, and so would the Prancing Pony, a – low and disreputable establishment full of undistinguished farmers and tradesment. If you wish to learn more regarding the race of men, we will send for some few of the Rangers – they may show you how they travel at speed, and make camp in the wilderness – and –"

 

My Lord – those Rangers are known to frequent the Prancing Pony – and -" The expression on Estel's face could only be described as "mutinous". "I have expressed my wish – my wish EXACTLY – and I will not change it. You have given your word, My Lord."

 

"Estel," Ellrohir clapped him on the back, "That was most amusing, and truly, you have paid our father in his own coin in the matter of the Dwarves visit – and, you will remember, it was because of us that you were disappointed – but, truly, Estel, you would find Bree – slow – "

 

"You do not, Lord Ellrohir – and I will not change my wish."

 

"Then I will keep my word," Lord Elrond said slowly, "Lord Ellrohir, Lord Elladan, you will wait upon me in my chamber later this evening."

 

Interlude – Disreputable Habits

 

"That was too narrow an escape for comfort," Elladan sighed. "And here I thought our stocks of pipeweed were vanishing so rapidly because you had not kept our agreement, and were using it on the sly."

 

"Well, I was, since I believed you to be."

 

"As I was, since you were."

 

"Only after you started –"

 

"On the contrary, it was not I who first broke the agreement –"

 

They were interrupted by a soft cough.

 

"Young Lords, perhaps it would be best if you in fact bring back a barrel or so of resin – ask one of the Rangers what they use, and what Butterbur terms it."

 

"Turancal, you old reprobate – we didn't know you had it in you! Contravening Father's edict, and raiding our best Longbottom."

 

"The Longbottom being not quite the equal of the Old Toby, however."

 

"According to whom, Turancal – "

 

"Well, according to me, my dear Elladan."

 

"I did not ask you, you possessing no refinement of taste – "

 

"That would be, according to Mithrandir, who roused my curiosity about the plant in the first place."

 

"That must be a swine, soaring over the roof-tree – the day my precious brother is in agreement with Master Turancal," Elladan sighed. "In any event, Master, we are in your debt."

 

"The Old Toby will be payment enough – mind you, take care lest the boy discover what you are transporting."

 

"It would be just like Estel to – "

 

"Bring a pipe straight into the Hall of Fire, and discourse to Father on the respective merits of the leaf."

 

"He would no doubt choose the Longbottom – "

 

"I beg to differ, I never said Estel lacked intelligence, only discretion – he would choose the Old Toby – "

 

"My Lords, it is perhaps – lacking in discretion to continue this discussion."

 

"Right as ever, Turancal, old fellow!"

 

The Master of Archery bit back a sharp retort – realizing that he might well have to put up with more than a few breezy "old fellows" to keep the Old Toby coming.

 

Interlude (continued) – Details

 

"I need not reiterate, I think, my reservations about this journey to Bree," Lord Elrond had told his sons. "And I will not dwell on past – indiscretions and omissions, Masters 'Fangorn' and 'Doldin'. Although as assumed names, they are exceptionally poorly chosen, doubtless none in Bree would suspect their possessors to also possess even the tiniest drop of the blood of the Eldar. I pray that you encourage Estel to make a similar choice, - 'Hilrohadel' would seem quite fitting – rather than 'Beren' or 'Barahir' as he would no doubt prefer."

 

"'Hilrohadel' it shall be," Ellrohir grinned, "So long as he rides behind my brother."

 

"Most fitting," Elladan smiled narrowly, "So long as my brother – precedes us!"

 

"In any event, and it is not material which of you precedes the other, I trust that you will ensure Estel's present and continued safety above any other consideration, meaning that it must not become common knowledge at the Prancing Pony or in any other part of Bree that there is an – exceptionally indulged mortal child dwelling in Imladris. I will leave the ordering of the details of the journey completely in your hands -

 

"See to it, however, that Estel rides a pony suited to his age, and not Lindon.

 

"And ensure that the Lorien bow does not leave Rivendell in his possession, nor any bow of Elvish make, and although he make take a sword with him on the journey, do not allow him to display it in Bree.

 

"Moreover, there is still a volume of dubious content regarding Dwarves missing from the library – locate it, or at the very least, ascertain that it is not in Estel's baggage, and if there are runes on any object that Estel proposes to take with him, however harmless in appearance, confiscate that object and bring it to me ere you depart.

 

"And he is not to fill his pack with sweetmeats and comfits that are far too fine for wandering sons of Men to possess. Furthermore, there is lembas bread missing from our stores, and no doubt Estel has taken it, and since lembas is NEVER given save to Elf Friends, and only under exceptional circumstances, you will find it, confiscate it, and bring it to me immediately.

 

"There is an axe of Dwarf make that is missing from the armory – it must be located and returned.

 

"And Estel is not to take the dice he was given by that misbegotten son of a – rather, Estel is not to take dice with him at all.

 

"You are not to allow him to take any of his herbal concoctions that his mother has not examined, and you are to bring any substance that his mother disapproves of to me, instantly.

 

"And you are to assure his mother that she need not fret over the boy, as women are determined to do – "

 

"Father!" Ellrohir finally broke in. "I did not think it possible, to bend a wine goblet into such a shape."

 

"And I will not – tolerate – inferior workmanship – " Ellrohir ducked smartly as the offending object was flung at his head, narrowly missing its target, and even more narrowly missing the Lord Glorfindel, who had chosen that moment to enter the room.

 

"I will not have a moment's ease," Lord Elrond admitted, after his sons had fled. "Not until that child has returned."

 

Chapter 12 – The Journey Begins (A Chapter Shorter than an Interlude)

 

Lord Elrond's humor was not improved on the morning of the departure, when Estel rode up on Lindon, laden with suspicious bundles, and with the Lorien bow slung over his shoulder.

 

"We couldn't convince him," Elladan shrugged airily, "But, fear not, Father, all is going according to plan –"

 

"Father, that was a most insalubrious sound – if you require an elixir for it, one may no doubt be found among Estel's – rather, young Master Hilrohadel's belongings – take care that you ride directly behind my brother, mind you." Ellrohir's shrug was more exaggerated than his twin's.

 

"Master Hilrohadel will ride behind you, my dear Ellrohir - Master Turancal, lead out his beast!"

 

The Master of Archery led out a sturdy pony, already laden with a few packs, smoothly lifted Estel down from Lindon, relieving him of Elessar in the process, and deposited him firmly upon the pony before Estel could protest.

 

"Estel, if you do not open your mouth," Ellrohir whispered, "Master Turancal will have the bags you packed unloaded and returned to your room, without Father examining them."

 

Estel started to speak, then shut his mouth very, very quickly, and finally pouted.

 

"And that is no way to begin our adventure, is it?" Elladan added. "We are not always the fools of our family, you know."

 

Estel began to laugh then, and replied, "I will take care to ride – behind both of you."

 

a note regarding the derivation of Estel's assumed name: Hil, a variation of "khil" or, follow, roh – horse, adel – behind

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Chapter 13 – In Disguise

 

After a day's travel, it had become an adventure indeed, for Estel, for although he had made many trips within the hills, woods and the hidden valleys that surrounded Rivendell, he had never been allowed to travel openly upon the road.

 

To his delight, they met a number of parties of other travelers, including a small band of Rangers, also on their way to Bree, but traveling much faster than the Rivendell party, having neither small boys nor ponies to slow their progress.

 

"Ell-er – Fangorn! Doldrum!" One of them shouted.

 

"That is, Doldur – no – blast it – Doldin, you fool!" Ellrohir answered.

 

"Leave it as Doldur – that sounds Dwarfish – and no one's talking about anything save Dwarves, since the big battle – you know how it is – Men do all the work, and your – er, that is – Elves and Dwarves take all the credit."

 

"It should be 'Dwarven', not 'Dwarfish,'" Estel had piped up.

 

"Right you are, lad, and you're about the right height to pass for one, could you lower that voice and grow a beard – who's this friend of yours, Dolfang?"

 

"Hilrohadel! - "

 

"Most apt, as he's following you!"

 

"And, he's the son of - a good lady who tends – er, the sick, in - er, our – village!"

 

"Yes, yes, very well – and we'll stand you a round in Bree, should you manage to get there this moon!"

 

They raced off, Elladan's parting shot of, "Mind you keep the names straight, damn you!" seemingly disregarded.

 

"How I wish I could have held, or even seen Orcrist, or Glamdring! And, if only I had met the Dwarf heroes, especially Thorin Oakenshield – it is said that, when all was lost, it was Thorin Oakenshield who marched out of the Lonely Mountain, crying 'Elves and Men, to me!' and turned the tide of battle, though he fell himself – do you think there were ever Dragons near Rivendell? Dragons so huge that they blotted out the sky?"

 

"Valar! We're back on the subject of Smaug and the accursed Five Armies!" Elladan sighed,

 

"Would that someone had shot that eagle – Cirmenel, my , er, foot! Rather should he be named the Windbag, for he is the laziest of birds, unless there is the prospect of battle, or of tidings to be spread before his fellows – Why, he will not even bestir himself to hunt for himself except in dire straits - he lies in wait and snatches prey from unwary hunters and fishermen!"

 

"Lord Ell "- Estel began, pausing at Ellrohir's glare "Or, rather, Doldur, that is, Doldin –"

 

"And curse all Rangers, as well," muttered Ellrohir.

 

"Cirmenel is certainly the loudest and the most florid of his brethren, " added Elladan." 'Praise the descendants of Thorondor, ye of Imladris,' indeed! 'For they have rained destruction from the skies and cleansed the North, and restored a King Under the Mountain, and a King in Dale, The beaks of the very fledglings are black with orc-blood!' I'd like to stop his beak – as if Thorin – long may he rest in honor under his Mountain – and Dain, late though he was, and Bard of Dale, lucky as he may have been, had naught to do with the victory. I grant you, Thranduil deserves little credit - "

 

"Fools – you disparage them out of a most unbecoming envy - only because you were not there yourselves!" Estel was outraged.

 

"It is true my brother may harbor petty feelings "

"Unlike myself, my brother may –" They began, then shouted in unison, "FOOLS!?!"

 

"Estel, how dare you mimic Father and address us in that manner!"

 

"It is Hilrohadel, which is perhaps no jape – and you forbade me to address you by your proper names, and I cannot pronounce 'Fangorn' or 'Dullwit' without laughing –"

 

"You will address us as 'Gentlemen' for the present."

 

"So I would, if you would speak as such."

 

"EST-er-HIL – er – you had best mend your manners!" Elladan advanced on the boy in a threatening manner.

 

"Perhaps there is a grain of truth in your words," Ellrohir sighed, "For, had we but known that it was to come to open battle, and not merely stealing through tunnels stinking of dragonbreath, we had made up some tale – but, indeed, you cannot be permitted to speak so bluntly - curse Hudin, as well as eagles and Rangers."

 

"Not even, as part of my disguise?"

 

"And, what would that disguise be?"

 

"I was trying for – illbred, and impudent."

 

"You succeeded, so thoroughly, that part of my disguise will involve taking a stick to your disguised backside!" Elladan managed to keep a straight face, but the effect was somewhat spoiled by his brother's broad grin.

 

Chapter 14 – On the Trail of Trolls

 

"Can we see the Trolls, at least?" Estel pleaded, as the party reached the portion of the Road that the huge creatures had terrorized so recently.

 

"Oh, they would appear merely as exceptionally large and ugly stone images," Ellrohir shrugged coolly, "And, it is not as though we have never seen Trolls, in our time."

 

"Many Trolls, and larger and fiercer than these," Elladan shrugged more elaborately than his brother, and yawned into the bargain.

 

"You do not mean to argue, and to pester us in this matter, my dear Hilrohadel?"

 

"No, for it is plain to see that you in fact wish to see the Trolls as much as I."

 

Elladan sighed loudly, "Not in the slightest, however –"

 

"It is not as if we have no need to make camp –" Ellrohir continued.

 

"And, Father would be most displeased, should we camp very near to the road –"

 

Estel crowed with delight. "You DO wish to see them - and, we must find their lair, as well – there may be more swords, and treasure as well."

 

"Trust us, Es-Hirohadel, " Elladan replied, acidly, "If there were a dozen Dwarfs near that lair, you may be assured that nothing of value missed their scrutiny."

 

In any event, there was no need to search for the Trolls' lair, for it was plain by various articles that had been discarded on a what had become a well-trodden path between the road and the three stone Trolls that the creatures' plunder had been well picked over, and the relatively worthless articles tossed aside.

 

Nonetheless, Estel, rooting through a discouraging pile of torn and foully stained clothing, discovered a short sword, with a rough, discolored hilt in a battered and very ugly sheath and begged to keep it. "For, my sword, which L- er, your father, said I could bring with me, was left behind on L – er, the other – steed! And, surely, there would no longer be a rightful owner."

 

"Not one who would not be ashamed to claim the thing," Elladan shook his head. "You may take it back to – er, our village, - Ell, er, Doldin, stop laughing. If we do not practice dissembling in private, Es- er, Hirohadel will surely misspeak in Bree, and give himself away."

 

"It was not Esterohadel who staggered out of the Prancing Pony when Butterbur refused to fetch him another tankard of ale, shouting, 'Lord Elrond ssshall hear of thisssshhhh!"

 

"Nor was it Estehir who made matters worse by howling, "Ssilensh, dunsh – they'll think ushh Elvesshh! It was only by the grace of the Valar that most of the rest of the company were under the table!"

 

"No, it was by the grace of that ale – Butterbur has never broached another cask to equal it."

 

"Where were we?"

 

"In Bree, dunsh!!

 

" E – eh, Hirohadel, do not play with the sword. By the look of it, no doubt the blade is rusted, and unclean."

 

"I shall not draw it, unless I should have need – "

 

"We shall see to it that there is no need. You will not draw it at all."

 

"Suppose it is in disguise itself, a sword from Goldolin, like Orcrist, or Glamdring! Perhaps it has this evil appearance only because it moldered in some dragon's hoard, before a hero slew the dragon, retrieved it, and was slain in his turn –"

 

"To attain that appearance, it would have had to pass through a dragon's nether – "

 

"Careful, brother, lest he repeat your description in Father's hearing –"

 

"The Trolls! The Trolls! They are fearsome giants, even reduced to stone!!!"

 

They had indeed reached the clearing, where the stone remains of Will, Bert, and Tom loomed over a circle of much smaller stones, once used for many fires.

 

Estel circled the Trolls, this way and that. "My L – er lads, how did you propose to hunt such creatures?"

 

"Their skulls are as thick as their hides - one has but to taunt one, until it opens its mouth, roars, and charges. And then, one shoots an arrow up into its maw – if it does not kill the Troll outright, it will bring it down."

 

"Then – L-er your father was wrong, as well as yourselves, and you were in need of a third hunter – I was right to follow you." Estel stared steadily up at the largest of the three stone images. "Yes, standing thus, and the Troll enraged, it would be just possible to make such a shot. And especially with a Lorien bow." He nodded slowly. "Had not the bold Dwarves outwitted them, we should have tracked them and prevailed."

 

"No, we should not have. One – does not take a child on a Troll hunt!"

 

"We are all children, are we not? Sons of Men, and – er, and I am well grown for my age, as your Father has stated many times."

 

"Our father has stated many more times that you are to obey his orders without question – "

 

"As do his own –"

 

"If you finish that thought, and do not dare to ascribe your impudence to any proposed disguise, I will see to it that you dearly regret - "

 

"My dear Fangorn, almost do I hear Father himself, in you –"

 

"AND YOU WILL NOT UNDERMINE MY AUTHORITY!!!"

 

Estel and Ellrohir stared at Elladan, somewhat in awe, as he turned majestically on his heel and began unloading a pack from his horse.

 

"Unless you two wish to eat only your words, you will follow my example."

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Chapter 15 – The Twins Break Their Word, and Estel is Disappointed

 

Later that evening, once Estel was safely asleep, for once in their long lives, the Elven Twins began a conversation which was entirely serious, and which did not stray from its original point.

 

"I may have spoke harshly," Elladan began.

 

"You spoke well, and I should have come to your aid, not countered with a jest – I fear that Father's misgivings are not unfounded, and that we have taken our duties toward this boy far too lightly."

 

"My brother, in the past we have dealt handily with blustering and swaggering, and over-confidence – we have beaten these things out of – his predecessors, and taught them to measure their shortcomings. Unkindly, perhaps, since lording it over boys of their own kind with lesser abilities was no preparation for being thrown into our household. But this child has had no examples among his race, or his age, and he has taken to measuring what is expected of him by our examples."

 

"And Father was right to chide us – those examples have been poor indeed. The Trolls – we were reckless to set out after them, and we were careless not to have foreseen that Estel would follow us. In the past, we had no need to worry – none of the others could have stalked us unawares, and indeed, had they done so, and had we caught up to the creatures, the sight of them would have thrown such a shock into any of them - "

 

"That we could have dealt with the Trolls ere they recovered their wits. But, Estel – did you mark his study of the angle of the shot?"

 

"After watching us, he would have stepped directly into the path of the monster, with his little bow –"

 

"As he rode down upon those orcs. Thank the Valar that the bow was from Lorien."

 

"Thank rather the Lady of Light – do you think she foresaw it?"

 

"She made most pointed reference to paths beset with perils – to which we paid no heed."

 

"That ends this instant, brother. Estel will tread no more perilous paths while I may bar them with my body."

 

"Or I with mine." They embraced, and rested, knowing that Estel would wake with the first rays of dawn, if not before.

 

In fact, the Twins were forced to wake Estel deliberately, as he was tossing and whispering in his sleep, and they feared that the Trolls figured in a nightmare.

 

"No, it was not the Trolls," he had said, with a deep frown, "It was the dark, deep place, as before, and the great voice - he was telling me to be wary, for not all things are as they appear to me, that not all foes seem foul, nor friends fair, to trust in my own judgment –"

 

"This voice itself may be no friend to you," Ellrohir said gently, looking over Estel's shoulder at his Twin, whose expression was uncharacteristically grim.

 

"And, for now, it is our judgment you must rely upon. And we swear, it will not fail you."

 

The next several days afforded no opportunity to test the Twins' new found resolve. Nothing untoward occurred upon the road. The little party continued to pass other parties, and indeed Estel took great pleasure in simply offering and receiving offhand greetings such as are exchanged by casual travelers, having spent so much of his short life hidden away in Imladris, and isolated from his own kind.

 

That was to change abruptly, as the party reached the outskirts of the village of Bree. Three of the party of Rangers they had encountered at the outset of their journey came racing up the road, as if the orcs of Sauron had been on their heels.

 

"My Lords, you are well-met indeed!" the leader hailed them. "We are in need of your swords."

 

It transpired that the body of a stranger, dressed after the fashion of the nobility of Gondor, had been found a little further down the road, his throat torn out as if by wolves, but otherwise unmarked.

 

"Here is a mystery – for we had no notice of this stranger, meaning he was traveling by stealth, and moreover, if he was brought down by a pack of wolves, why did they not feed?"

 

"All manner of foul creatures were expelled from Dol Goldur along with their master," Elladan replied slowly. "And there were werewolves among those creatures – that much we know, for in the past they have hunted the men of these parts, and even the little Halflings, purely for the sport. Such bodies have been found before, from time to time."

 

"If there is a werewolf prowling so near to Bree, it must be hunted down in its turn," said Ellrohir, "We would aid you instantly, were it not for our small – friend. We cannot bring him along on such an expedition."

 

"Nor is there need to," replied one of the Rangers. "Butterbur's brother – the ne-er do well who gets his living, such as it is, by cutting wood, among other less reputable pursuits, has his cottage not two miles from the road here. It is sturdy, and with the doors barred behind him and the windows shuttered, the boy will be fine there. We'll ride along with you and see him safely bestowed, and we can then take Simeon with us – he's a handy man in a fight, though not one overly fond of exerting himself in the normal course of events."

 

Estel protested, increasingly insistently, for the entire two miles, and between his arguments, and the slow pace occasioned by his pony, his new friends had lost patience with him by the time that they reached the little clearing where Butterbur's cottage was set next to the remains of a garden, now half-choked with weeds, and a large pile of broken harnesses, shards of crockery, and other sundry damaged goods.

 

"Simeon, you mangy mongrel sot!" one of the Rangers hailed the cottage, "Get your worthless carcass out here, even if you've not slept off last night, for we've a spoilt brat to drop off, and a damned werewolf to hunt!"

 

"I told you that the Rangers would not appreciate the fine points of your efforts at persuasion," Ellrohir shook his head, "They are not accustomed to boys who take a high handed tone worthy of Father in dismissing their counsel, neither are they pleased at criticism of their skills at archery – "

 

"The tall one's shot was so glaringly astray that it could not have hit a full grown boar or a werewolf for that matter, let alone the rabbit he was aiming at, and it is true that I could have bettered that shot and with a Man's bow, not – em, in any event, it is also true that I could have fired two – or even three – arrows in the space of time it took him to –"

 

The "tall one" was looking on, most amused, and interrupted them, "Had we the leisure, My Lord, I would be pleased to teach this baby somewhat of humility, by taking him up on his boastful challenge."

 

"It is no boast, Sir Ranger. And you will pardon me, but it would be yourself who would be humbled, for – "

 

"You will be silent! And you will cease to embarrass us!" Lord Elladan thundered, as Ellrohir pulled the child aside.

 

"Estel!" he whispered, "What have we told you, about revealing too much, he does not know that you have been schooled by an Elvish Master, and he must not know."

 

"I – forgot," Estel said, in a small, forlorn tone. "I – am sorry, Sir Ranger," he stood as tall as he was able. "I am – not accustomed, to the society of – grown men."

 

"And it is in the nature of puppies, to bark loudly and bite each other in play," the Ranger grinned widely, "Unless they lack spirit." He bent and ruffled Estel's hair, "Some day, boy, we will hold a shooting match, for any stake you may name, and I will teach you to lose, gracefully."

 

Estel grinned back, and his eyes narrowed, and he glanced casually at an exceptionally fine dagger that the Ranger wore in his belt, but, encountering Ellrohir's glower, he did not answer.

 

It was then that a burly man, obviously dressed hastily, but dressed, blundered out the front door of the cottage. "Well, here's the brat – but where's this werewolf?!?"

 

"Somewhere between here and Bree, Simeon. We need the use of your premises, such as they are, to safeguard this child, while we join the hunt."

 

"You have them. I've fastened down the shutters, and locked and barred the back door. There's bread, and cheese and some salt meat, to last a week if needed, some juice mess that one of the goodwives sent over, and some berry cordial that's not overly strong – I've locked the cellar, so the boy can't get at the ale, or the wine, not that this one would, but I would have, at his age – "

 

"You are not leaving me here," Estel began.

 

"All he's to do is slide down the bar to the front door, and he'll be safer than in the Bree lock-up – a Troll couldn't batter down that door, let alone a sheriff or a jealous – eh, we won't mention that – the boy will be fine."

 

"You cannot leave me – you gave your word you would take me to Bree!"

 

"Eh, I see you could do with a word – or more – alone," Butterbur grunted. "Take the boy inside, and do the necessary, while I saddle up, and we'll be off!"

 

The Twins dragged Estel inside the none-too-tidy cottage, and sat him firmly down. "Butterbur expects us to beat some sense into you, as he sees it –"

 

"Lord Elladan, Lord Ellrohir – you GAVE YOUR WORD! Is it not a matter of honor?"

 

"Honor, or pride, Estel," Elladan said slowly, "In this case, there is no help for it – there is a greater good involved. There are good men in peril, Estel, and little Halflings as well. Should we leave them as fair game for a werewolf, in order to fulfill your birthday wish? Would such actions be honorable? Could we take pride in keeping our word under such conditions?"

 

"You must take me along."

 

"No. It is too dangerous, and you would increase the danger to our companions. Any further time spent in arguing the point may cost a man's or a halfling's life. You are to stay here until we return. And I will have YOUR word that you will neither leave this cottage, nor allow anyone to enter it, until our return. Estel, I am waiting."

 

"Very well," the boy sighed, "I give you my word."

 

And he barred the door behind them as they left, murmuring, "Under duress."

 

Chapter 16 – Visitors

 

Estel stared around the cottage, which might once have been snug and cozy. In its present condition, Lord Elrond would not have allowed his swine in it, not before a thorough cleaning. Certainly someone should have emptied the bucket set to catch the drips from a roof which obviously needed rethatching. If this was indeed how Men lived, Estel mused, perhaps the Master of Rivendell's frequently acidic comments were not unfounded. He looked around for something with which to amuse himself – in Imladris, he had always had, at the very least, scores of books, and several armories of weapons to draw from. Here there was almost nothing. He searched further, and rescued a small pile of books from a dust-covered heap in one corner. Wiping the topmost, he read the title, in the common speech, "Old Tales from the Ancient Days".

 

He began to leaf through it, and found many familiar stories, told, however, in almost unrecognizable form. Apparently, many events and deeds had been interpreted quite differently by the race of Men than by the Eldar. He gasped at several very, very unflattering references to the "swollen pride" and "arrogance" of "ungrateful Elfkind", and basely memorized a few of them to use as ammunition against his twin guardians at a later date.

 

The smell from the moldy bucket continued to annoy Estel and distract him, however. He marked the page on which a promisingly hair-raising tale - "The Elf Witch and the Army which Traveled through Time" began, and decided that his guardians could not object if he simply opened the front door long enough to throw out the filthy water.

 

And, having done so, he noticed that there was a stump about a stone's throw from the door, and that there were shattered pieces of crockery all around it. Crockery of the same overall pattern and design as was heaped on the heavy oak table near the hearth. Idly, he picked up a bowl, aimed, and hurled it at the stump, coming a few feet short. So, he hurled another bowl after it, this time hitting the stump handily, and smashing the bowl to bits. He tried a somewhat heavier mug, missed, threw another, and shattered it quite satisfactorily. He paused, guiltily, and then reasoned that, in the greater scheme of things, it should do no lasting harm if he tested his aim and his skills with a few more vessels, especially since darkness was falling quickly, and the failing light would prove something of a challenge. He picked up a heavy tureen, squinted into the dying light, flexed his muscles, and hurled it with all his might, creating a resounding thump and crash as it smashed against the wood.

 

"Oh, well done, Master Simeon!"

 

"Thank goodness you are here, for we are in deep trouble, again!"

 

There was much high pitched giggling, and Estel could make out five small figures running headlong out of the woods and across the clearing.

 

"But – you are NOT Master Simeon!" the tiny girl in the lead cried out, at the same time Estel exclaimed, "Halflings!"

 

"That is rude, whoever you are!" the only somewhat larger boy behind her scowled.

 

"Don't make him angry, Harrier," a third whispered.

 

"How is it rude, was it – Harry?" asked Estel.

 

"It's Harrier, after the hawk," replied the boy, "And, how would you like to be called a half of anything?"

 

"I would not, I think," Estel answered, "How do you call yourselves?"

 

"We – are hobbits. Wholly. Not Halves."

 

"Then, Master Hobbit, or rather, Master Harrier, I am – Hirohadel, and I apologize for the unintended insult." Estel made a formal bow, and the small hobbits whispered among each other in awe.

 

"Well met, sir," the boy replied. "I am a Brambledon, though my grandmother was a Took from the Great Smials, and these four are Annabella, Arabella, Berengar, and Fredegar Dapplebrook."

 

"Well met in return," Estel bowed again, and without thinking, "And how may I serve you?" which was the courtly fashion in Imladris,

 

"Oh, please, sir!" The brightest-eyedhobbit children gazed up imploringly, "We came looking for Master Simeon, because – "

"When we heard the smashing crockery, we knew we would find him –"

"Though he is of the Big People, he is kind –"

"And a hobbit friend and –"

"And we never meant to lose sight of Tess –"

"We were playing hiders and seekers, and –"

"Father will beat us –"

"She ate through her tether – "

"No, he won't, but –"

"Master Simeon could find her -

"Mother will weep –"

"He can find all things lost in the woods –"

"For the lost milk - "

"We planned to promise to weed –"

"Please, oh, please –"

"The old garden, for there are still berries there –"

"Could you find her instead?"

"He will never let us play hiders and seekers again –"

"Instead of Master Simeon, that is, not berries –"

"Father, that is, not Master Simeon –"

 

"Little ones," Estel's head was spinning, "Truly would I help you, if only I could."

 

"You mean, you cannot find things in the woods, like Master Simeon?"

 

"Yes, I can, or could, but I must not leave this cottage."

 

"Not even for Tess?"

 

"I cannot. I have given my word."

 

To his consternation, all four of the smaller hobbits began to wail and cry.

 

Harrier appeared just as downcast, but he tried to smile, "That's it, then – do not plague Master Hirr – er, him." The wails turned to sniffs and tiny sobs, and he added, "Tess is their goat, you see, she gives them milk, and, well, it's just that the crops have been none too good of late, and without the milk, and the cheese, the little ones may well go hungry."

 

Estel stared down at them, and repeated to himself, "It cannot be helped – there is a greater good involved." He squared his shoulders. "There is no honor, or pride in depriving little ones of milk. I will find your goat."

 

"I will go with you," insisted Harrier.

 

"But night is falling, and there may be evil things abroad."

 

"I am stout, I have my sling, and my pockets are filled with fine rocks."

 

For the first time in his life, Estel began to realize how the Elven Twins had felt, on too many occasions. "Where is your home?" he asked.

 

"There's a short-cut through the woods, to the fields –"

 

"Then I will take the young ones that way, and pick up the trail of their goat. You must stay here, Master Harrier, and, and guard Master Simeon's cottage with your sling, until I return. And, should he and my friends return before me, you must tell them where I went, and why."

 

"But, if, as you say, there are evil things – you will need my help."

 

"I have my sword," Estel gestured dramatically with the Trolls' cast-off. "It is the evil things, who will need help!" He recalled how the mighty Lord Glorfindel had set out upon an expedition, and added, "Should any fell creature East of the Sea and West of the Misty Mountains dare brave this blade, by Ulmo, Lord of Waters, I will return with its head!" He said it well, and, remembering in the last second to take a torch, set off with the four hobbit children, waving an airy farewell, much in the manner of Elladan in similar situations, to Harrier, before the older hobbit boy could form a response

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Chapter 17 - Creatures

 

Two very worried full grown hobbits were about to enter the woods as Estel emerged from them, leading the four little ones.

 

"Annabella Pearl Dapplebrook! Arabella Garnet Dapplebrook! Berengar Clovius Dapplebrook! Fredegar Bartelmeus Dapplebrook! You'll have no need to sit yourselves by the fire, for your backsides will be nicely warmed the moment I get my hands on you!!!!!"

 

"Bad, bad, little ones – how could you! It would be pitch black save for the moon, and your second supper is cold!"

 

"It was Tess –"

"She strayed –"

"We thought, Master Simeon –"

"He was smashing crocks –"

"Could find her –"

"Though he's not –"

"He said he would-"

"Tess, that is –"

"Not Master Simeon –"

 

"Quiet, quiet, you – ", their father made an exasperated gesture, "And get you inside – there's talk of wolves –"

 

"TESS! WOLVES!! NO!! OH, TESS! TESS!"

 

"I shall find her, do not fear!" Estel called out, and then, recognizing a not unfamiliar expression on the older hobbit's face, sprinted smartly back into the woods.

 

"Hold up there, young master! By the height of you, y'should not be out alone after dark yourself -!"

 

It proved no difficult task to pick up the trail of the errant goat. She appeared indeed, to have stopped and started several times, as if something were drawing her along. Estel moved quickly and silently and before long he could hear Tess' plaintive bleating, along with the intermittent hooting of the owls, also hunting in the woods, and the rustling of the small creatures that were their prey.

 

He caught a flash of white among the trees: "There you are!" Estel whispered, and he advanced upon the pretty creature gleaming in the moonlight, until he was able to slip a rope about her neck. "I have you, Tess! Now let us get you back to your little masters and mistresses, for I fear they will not catch a wink of sleep until you are safely back in their care!"

 

He started at a low growling coming from a nearby thicket. "What is this?" and as he approached, the growling grew louder. Estel lit his torch and peered into the dense undergrowth. Two bright green eyes were peering back. He reached to part some of the branches, and the growls became snarls. "A dog, is it, that has also strayed this night?"

 

He spoke gently to the animal, in the manner he had learned to use with the great hounds of Imladris, and called to it as Lord Elrond's Master of the Hunt called to his pack. And, slowly, the creature, who was as black as Tess was white, crept from the shelter of the thicket, one bleeding paw dragging behind it.

 

"By Beren One-Hand – you are no dog, you are a tiny wolf, hurt, and no doubt hungry! Were you thinking to eat this goat? If so, you would be greatly disappointed, for she is far too large, and would deal you another injury with her hooves."

 

The wolf cub snarled again, and laid its ears back - and Estel shook his head. "Now, what am I to do with YOU?" He thought for a moment. "If you will let me carry you, I will take you back to Master Simeon's cottage. There is a fire there, and meat, and I will look at that paw." He took off his cloak, and very slowly and gently wrapped the little animal in it. And he set off in the direction of Simeon Butterbur's cottage, carrying the wolf cub, and leading the goat. He had figured the distances, and he had circled far enough through the woods that it was now a shorter trip to Simeon's than to the hobbits. He would settle the cub by the fire first, and then return Tess to the Dapplebrooks and see Harrier Brambledon safely home.

 

Interlude: Crockery and Crocks

 

When Estel arrived back at the cottage, he found, not Harrier Brambledon, but the master of the Dapplebrook household along with another grown hobbit, both standing in the doorway, arms akimbo.

 

"Ah Hah! It is as you thought, Isumbras, this is no Big Man, it is one of their little ones, and one who will no doubt receive a rare trimming when his folks catch up with him! Tracking foolish goats at night in the woods indeed!"

 

"Though, he has found her, and we are in his debt and should repay –" Dapplebrook began.

 

Estel smiled broadly, and smoothing a fold of his cloak to hide the cub, handed Tess' rope to her owner. "It was simple enough, and your lovely Annabella and charming Arabella, and your stout Berengar and industrious Fredegar have already promised to weed Master Simeon's garden –"

 

"Call that a garden!" Dapplebrook shook his head, "A disgrace, is what it is, and well for Master Simeon that the lads and lasses should put it to order – a pang it gives me to see it – when Mistress Butterbur was here, it was the tidiest –" He shook his head, and interrupted himself, "But of what benefit would that be to you, young sir – seeing as it was yourself, and not Master Simeon that brought back our Tess?"

 

"It may somewhat mollify Master Simeon when he sees, that is, he may not be best pleased that some of his crockery was, that is, that there was a very minor accident –"

 

"By the look of it, there were several fairly major accidents!" Brambledon guffawed, "That is, since the last occasion – that would be after the brandy – he smashed a batch himself –"

 

"How it would have pained his lady," Dapplebrook sighed, "The set was her parting gift –"

 

"That, and the flea in 'is ear – seeing as she said as how now even he could eat for a year without troubling himself to wash so much as a plate – Master Simeon only broke 'em after they were dirty, mind you." Brambledon looked sternly up at Estel.

 

"I will take greater care, I assure you, I deeply regret the damage," he replied, and yawned elaborately, "If you would be so good as to excuse me, it is – a trifle late, and it was a long walk through the dark, though very much worth the effort –"

 

"Thank you again, young sir, for Tess, and the little ones' thanks as well – it would have broken their hearts had we lost her, and good night to you." Dapplebroook led his goat away, and Estel bowed neatly and attempted to slip by Brambledon, who did not budge.

 

"Turned him up sweetly, you did," he snorted, "As sweetly as you stopped that young care-for-naught of mine from haring off with you – guarding Master Simeon's cottage, my right foot! Nonetheless, he'll get no second supper tonight, and neither breakfast tomorrow, setting you on. Believe me, I had it out of him as how you were not to have left this cottage, and – and what is that that you've got with you you are so bound and determined to sneak in?"

 

"Sir, it is very true that I was at fault to have left the cottage and you may be assured that my – guardians will have a great deal to say about that – it is only a small, stray dog, sir, - and, after all, no harm was done, save to the crockery, and moreover, I would have aided the little ones, in any event whether or not your brave son, who is well grown for his age, I believe, had pleaded on their behalf. I do not wish to keep you from your own fireside, as I am certain that your own lady is anxiously awaiting your – return –"

 

"Let's see it."

 

Estel had learned that the best way to pass off an awkward question was to slip the answer neatly between other interesting bits of information, but Brambledon was not to be distracted as easily as, for example, Ellrohir.

 

"You needn't go to the trouble of trying to hold that puzzled, dumb look, neither. It doesn't serve for Harrier, nor will it for you, and shame on those guardians of yours as who you've gone and led on more than a few merry chases, unless I miss my guess – and I don't!"

 

Estel sighed, quickly uncovered the cub, which was being remarkably quiet, and as quickly recovered it, not, however, quickly enough.

 

"Stray dog, my LEFT foot! That there is a wolf."

 

"Perhaps it – resembles a wolf, very, very slightly, I grant you – it has more the look, though, of, a, an Yrch hound – specially bred to hunt them –"

 

Brambledon shook a pudgy finger in Estel's face. "You had best make sure that these guardians of yours take it with them when you are on your way and do not try to fob it off on Master Simeon! I'll make it my business to remind him that we've not forgotten that bear cub, nor its damages, neither!" He shook his head. "Now you take it, and yourself, and you get inside the cottage. And I'll wait to hear you bar the door, too!"

 

Gratified to escape, Estel hastened to do as Brambledon ordered, and it was with relief that he heard the hobbit trudge away, muttering, "Hare-brained they are at that age, never mind the size of them."

 

Chapter 18 – A Discovery and a Minor Dilemma

 

Estel heaved a huge sigh as Brambledon departed, and he carefully unwrapped the wolf cub, which had started to whimper, and put it down on Master Simeon's table, where he took a good look at its back right paw. "Poor little creature – and what a good little wolf," he stroked its head gently. When he went to touch the paw, the animal bared its teeth, but he spoke softly to it, and it allowed him to gingerly examine the paw, which was torn badly and bleeding, "There's no bone broken, so let us see if my athelas will help to heal this!"

 

He managed to apply a poultice, after a few false starts, and a few near nips, and then put his cloak down by the fireside, laid the little wolf gently down on it, and fed it the scraps of dried meat he'd found in Master Simeon's mess of a larder, along with water from a jug Elladan had filled from Butterbur's well before he had left.

 

And then, since it had been a long walk in the dark after a long, and disappointing day, Estel fed himself. After examining some dry bread, and a cheese that was not supposed to have mold, or at least not the quantity of mold it exhibited, Estel ate sparingly of the lembas he had smuggled out of Imladris in his jacket, and washed it down with the cordial, which turned out to be quite the strongest drink (despite Master Simeon's description) he had ever tasted in his life. And which he drank, not quite so sparingly. So not quite sparingly, that despite his resolve to stay awake and watch over the little wolf cub, both he and the cub fell fast asleep by Master Simeon's fire.

 

Estel was awakened shortly past dawn by an ear-splitting wail. Gathering his wits, he realized that the fire had gone out. And then he stopped dead in his tracks, his heart missing a beat or two.

 

Where he had left a wolf cub, there was now a baby. A baby which was now cold and miserable. With an athelas poultice on her right foot.

 

"I have read of these creatures," Estel breathed, "Never have I seen one. And – what is one to do with one? I cannot feed her meat scraps!"

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Chapter 18 (continued) – The Discovery that the Dilemma is More than Minor

 

Estel looked at the baby's foot, and put a fresh poultice on it, got the fire going nicely and the baby wrapped back up in his cloak. He managed to mix a very little lembas with a great deal of water, and to feed it to the baby, getting more into the baby than onto the baby. She gurgled and cooed at him, and, quite satisfied with himself, he put her back down next to the fire.

 

"The lembas answered very well," he said to himself, "and the poor little foot is on its way to mending." He sat down, put his feet up on Master Simeon's table, and took a swig of what remained of the cordial, "It could not be better!"

 

And then, hastily spitting out some of the cordial, he leapt to his feet, "Valar! It could not be worse!" He took a hasty turn around the kitchen, trying to gather his thoughts.

 

"A cub by night, a baby by day! This little mite is a were-wolf, and moreover, not a made were-wolf, for there is no bite-mark. She must be of the line of the great werewolves of Morgoth! When she is grown, she will be able to change her shape at will, and speak to her kind by thought, as do the Eldar, and rule the common were-wolves!

 

"What – what am I to do with her? Lord Elrond would not have liked a wolf in Imladris, but Elladan and Ellrohir would have helped me hide her, for it would have amused them mightily. But not even they would dare to harbor a were-wolf of Morgoth, however tiny, even if her presence could be hidden from Lord Elrond, which it could not! Surely, he would not kill such a helpless creature in cold blood? Yet her very race is Elf bane, and would he not leave her to the elements, and let nature take its course?"

 

Estel looked at what appeared to be a healthy baby girl, and tears formed in his eyes, "I could not bear that. What am I to do?"

 

He sat down, and for several hours, he pondered alternatives, but was able to form no solution. Not until he had thought of running away with the child, and disguising himself as a dwarf. And then it came to him.

 

"Hudin! He is mad enough to take on the task of raising a small were-wolf, if there is gold in it. And Elladan and Ellrohir are too soft-hearted to take this child and kill her, not if I trick them into looking into her eyes, even once – I will prevail upon them to find Hudin, and bribe him!"

 

And then, there was a knock at the door. Estel started.

 

"What if it is Dapplebrook, or Brambledon? Dapplebrook did not see the wolf, but how am I to explain the baby? Brambledon saw the wolf – if it is Brambledon, we are lost! No, I must overpower him, and – but what if Lord Elladan and Lord Ellrohir – no, they would not knock."

 

The knocking became louder.

 

"A moment!" Estel temporized, and, looking about him, found and picked up the battered sword from the Trolls hoard.

 

Chapter 19 – The Wolf

 

The child began to scream - it seemed to Estel in outrage, not out of hurt or hunger. And there was a thunderous blow that shook the door.

 

"Unbar this door!" It was a woman's voice, that accorded ill with the strength of the knocking. "I seek a child, and I have heard its voice!"

 

"Mayhap, it is the mother," Estel thought, "and we will come out of this safely after all." He thought again, "At least, one of us." He squared his shoulders, and holding the small sword behind his back, he marched to the door and lifted the bar, standing as tall as he was able to.

 

A dark woman of more than average height, even had she been one of the Eldar, stopped on the threshold. "And – I have found – two children," she breathed. "Your pardon, my young one – but I have been seeking this child for these several days. Her mother is dead, in a sad accident, and it was feared the babe had perished as well."

 

Estel stood aside and gestured with his left hand toward the baby, who was smiling and gurgling. "She had taken a slight hurt," he said stiffly, "But it seems that she is better,"

 

The woman strode to the fireside and snatched the child up, exclaiming, "Indeed, it seems that you have healed her!" She turned to Estel and smiled, "And, with a common weed – or so the country people regard it."

 

"It is an herb that I have had much luck with," he replied. "Lady," he added, "You should keep the cloak – for the nights are cold, yet."

 

"Oh, I will keep her warm, do not fear," she smiled, showing teeth that appeared exceptionally white, and long. "And it seems that she is not hungry, either, - how is that?"

 

"I fed her – em, a little waybread, with water," Estel noticed belatedly that there was still a piece of lembas on the table.

 

"We are in your debt, little one," she said, as she made to leave. "And, how may I reward you for your kindness?" She saw that Estel was staring fixedly at her. "I do not always wear this crude homespun, and I am powerful among my people."

 

"If that is so, Lady, then there is a reward that I would ask – though I would have aided this child in any event."

 

"Name it, and, if it is within my power to grant, it shall be yours."

 

"Then Lady, I would ask that your people – and well I know what those people are, since I found this child last night, and not in the form she now wears – I would ask that your people no longer hunt Men and Halflings for sport!"

 

"You are over-bold!" the woman's voice had become lower and Estel heard somewhat of a growl in it, but he stood his ground.

 

"That is not within your power?"

 

"Yes, it is within my power, but if we are to bandy words about, it is more than one reward, and I offered only one. My people will no longer hunt Men, or they will no longer hunt Halflings for sport – you may choose which."

 

Estel thought of the tiny Dapplebrooks, and his grey eyes flashed, "Then, I choose Halflings, they are not so able to defend themselves!"

 

"Think again. If you choose the Halfings, then – I may hunt – you!"

 

She laid the baby down, outside the door, and her shape changed before Estel's eyes, into a wolf as black as the cub had been, and large as a warg.

 

"CHOOSE AGAIN." Estel heard her thought, as loud as ever he had heard Lord Elrond.

 

"I have made my choice. I stand by it."

 

She snarled, and bared her teeth, and she grew in shape again, until her arched back was as high as the roof of the cottage – and somehow, Estel knew that she could make her form even larger, as large and as fierce as Drauglin himself. His hand grasped the hilt of his small sword.

 

Chapter 20 – The Sword

 

Estel drew the sword from its dirty leather sheath and the blade that came forth was of a dark metal, and it blazed with a dull crimson light. Almost it turned in his hand, and his eyes went wide and dark, but neither did he drop the blade, nor did he retreat.

 

The giant wolf shrank suddenly, and resumed her form as a woman, her eyes almost as wide as Estel's.

 

"Boy – how did you come by that blade, and when? For this is the first time you have drawn it, is it not so?"

 

"I – had need, to draw it, or so I thought." Estel was white as death and scarcely able to think, so for once, he took little care with his words. "It was part of a Trolls' hoard, cast aside as worthless with other rubbish, but I pretended that it was a sword out of Gondolin."

 

"And indeed, it was in Gondolin when Goldolin fell, though it was not made there. You saw something when you drew it, did you not?"

 

"I saw – the night sky, and in it stars that I do not know, and I saw a dark throne surrounded by flame."

 

"There are runes on the blade – can you read them?"

 

Estel took a deep breath, and tried to calm himself. "They are – ancient, but the words are similar to – Oh! - 'He who draws my blade, without my leave, May he abide in exile, and bring a great doom upon his House' "

 

Estel lowered the sword, and laughed. "Then have I nothing to fear from this curse. For I am Estel, son of Erewen only, therefore I have no house upon which to bring doom, and to abide anywhere upon this Middle Earth is no exile, for I would see as much of it as I may in this life."

 

The werewolf stared at him, long and hard. "And what of the blade? See you aught to fear there?"

 

Estel bit his lip, "Yes. It is – not as other blades, it – has – life, and it – hungers."

 

"Give it to me."

 

He extended it, and the blade leaped in his hand.

 

The werewolf caught his wrist and steadied it – her strength greater even than Lord Elrond's – and took it from him. She slashed her left palm open and let the blade bathe in her blood, and then returned it to Estel.

 

"It has been fed – now sheathe it, and do not draw it again."

 

Estel hastened to return the blade to its ugly sheath, but continued to stare at it.

 

"This blade was forged in malice, was stolen with malice, and was used with malice – its name is Anghuine, it was a companion to Anguirel, and I think you know somewhat of that sword – like Anguirel, it will cleave any other weapon, for the iron that went into its making came from the sky and not from under the earth."

 

Estel nodded, and she went on, "This is a blade that must have blood when it is drawn – and since it was taken from its maker, it cares not whether it slaughters foes or friends of those who would wield it." She smiled thinly, "Save that it retains the hatred of its maker for the Great Lord Melkor, and all his creatures. Even wielded by one as small as you, this might have done me an injury."

 

"Lady, you have done yourself the injury –" Estel watched as a few drops of blood fell from her hand.

 

"I have scratched myself – by tonight, it will itch a little, no more. But again, perhaps I stand in your debt."

 

"No, Lady, I might have – scratched a little deeper, but you would have made short work of me."

 

"You do not boast."

 

"Lady, I do not lie."

 

"And yet, perhaps you must learn to do so. I would not have you speak of this encounter – and I will bargain with you for your silence. I have promised that my people will no longer hunt the Halflings. And, if you keep our secret – " she gestured toward the baby, who had lain quite quietly throughout, "I will also promise that they will no longer hunt Men – West of the Misty Mountains!"

 

"Lady, there is one whom I must tell – L – that, is the one who – shelters me, and –"

 

"Very well, you may tell Lord Elrond of Rivendell, when you have returned, for that is where you live, and he is the one who acts as your father, is that not true?"

 

Estel stood dumbfounded.

 

"Lembas bread is not easily come by, little one, nor the skill to read the ancient runes of the Eldar. A word of advice, though – a weapon such as Anguine does not fall into the hands of a small son of Men through accident. It came to you for a purpose, and if you would see that purpose fulfilled, you will not let Lord Elrond see it. For he will take it from you, and destroy it and then you will not have it when it is needed. You have hidden – other things from the Elf Lord, I doubt not."

 

She laughed, as Estel stared down at the floor. "As do all children, from their over-watchful parents. Fare well, Estel, son of Erewen only, until our paths cross again."

 

She stepped lightly out of the cottage, lifted up the silent baby, and walked into the woods.

 

Estel barred the door behind her, and sank down on the floor.

 

He did not hear her whisper to the baby, "A tiny werewolf of Melkor, fed upon lembas bread from Imladris, and healed by the hands of a small king - the world is changing indeed."

 

And no one saw a shape also change, and a huge black wolf race silently through the deep woods, holding a baby safe in her great maw.

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Chapter 21 – A Hasty Return

 

It was but a few hours later when there was the sound of horse hooves outside, and a shout: "Unbar the Door, Es – er - Hirohar - Stinking, lice-ridden Orc hides take it – unbar the door!"

 

Estel smiled thinly - it seemed a lifetime since Ellrohir and Elladan had left. "Not until you identify yourself, My Lord!"

 

"Fangorn's brother - and you've just identified me for all the world to hear and - UNBAR THIS DOOR!!!"

 

"Very well."

 

"Get your things together, it is worse that we had thought. There were some wolves killed, and in the morning, among the bodies was a woman, or what appeared to be a woman - there will be a mate, and he'll be out for the blood of anyone he can find -"

 

"There - cannot have been a mate," Estel mused, "Or -" he shut his mouth quickly, but Ellrohir had not bothered to listen.

 

"So we must get you back to Imladris, and with more speed than your pony can manage, I'm afraid - you shall ride with me, and we will leave the pony here - as recompense - quite a carnage of crockery outside - we'll speak of that later -"

 

"There is no need for haste, and I have taken care -" Estel stopped short.

 

"Do not argue, do not mention 'Bree' and 'word' in the same sentence, and whatever you have not gathered in the next INSTANT will be left behind!"

 

Estel snatched up his sword, and as an afterthought, the flagon with what was left of the cordial, and they were off.

 

Ellrohir rode as if one of the mythic Balrogs were on their heels, and Estel felt for a moment the thoughts of Menris, Ellrohir's stallion, "In time I will describe to vainglorious Talathoron the meaning of cunning with haste" as Ellrohir gave him his head, and they sped alternately down the road, across the countryside, and through the woods, whichever way the distance was shorter.

 

It was far too exciting for Estel to wish Ellrohir to slow his reckless pace, even were that Elf Lord willing to heed him. "Duck!" the son of Elrond shouted as they passed under low-hanging branches, "Hold tight!" as they jumped headlong over fences, and splashed through streams they could not leap. They paused only long enough each night for Menris to rest and graze, and before Estel could have believed it possible, they had reached the boundaries of Rivendell. There, Ellrohir attempted to slow their progress, so as not to unduly disturb the household, but Menris' blood was up, and he sped on, charging across the bridge at break-neck speed, and with a great deal of snorting, causing the alarm to be given, and every elf warrior in Imladris to arm himself and rush out to meet them.

 

"Ellrohir! What is the meaning of this disturbance? You cannot have reached Bree and returned in this space of time!"

 

Chapter 22 - Words Broken

 

"Almost, we reached Bree, and certainly, we have returned, and that in a manner which no other steed in these stables could have matched!" Menris tossed his head, neighed, and pawed the ground.

 

"You did not reach Bree!?! You gave your word -"

 

"We were forced - to break it." Ellrohir gave a short laugh.

 

"And mine, with it - this is no laughing matter!" Elrond's face had darkened.

 

"No - however, there was - a little matter - of werewolves."

 

"Werewolves?" The Lady Gilraen had also rushed out at the commotion. "Oh, Estel!" She opened her arms, and her son slipped off Menris and rushed into them, for once not embarrassed by her concern, although he was careful to take his contraband sword with him.

 

"Werewolves! Do not trifle with us - there have been no reports -" Lord Elrond began.

 

"There have been no reports, because the Rangers who would have made such reports, are still engaged, along with my brother, in hunting down the werewolf's mate!"

 

"We will continue this discussion in the privacy of my chamber, and with Estel, after he has - rested."

 

Lord Elrond stalked off, after ordering food and drink to be brought to his chamber for the travelers.

 

After it, and Estel, had arrived, and Estel was engaged in eating all of the sweetmeats he could without attracting his elders' attention, Lord Elrond confronted his son:

 

"Whatever the circumstances, you should not have broken your word to the child - you should have convinced him to release you from your promise. Still you fail to recognize the consequences of your actions!"

 

"Father, you fail to recognize the circumstances - there were men and their families in danger, and Halflings as well - there was no time to so convince Estel - my brother explained to him that there was no honor in keeping our word, the lives of the vulnerable are certainly worth more than the pride of Elladan or Ellrohir of Rivendell - "

 

"My son, standing by your word is not a matter of pride, or even of honor, only." Lord Elrond's face was graver than Ellrohir had ever seen it. "This world is not shaped by deeds alone, it is shaped by the will and the thoughts that precede them. When one's word is given, the will and the thoughts behind that word have already begun to change the future. They have - opened a door into it, a door that cannot again be shut if and when the word is not honored. A door through which evil may enter -"

 

There was a crash, as Estel dropped the tray of sweetmeats. "My Lord, I must speak with you, and I must speak with you alone."

 

"If it is concerning Lord Ellrohir abiding by his word and returning with you to Bree, this will keep until -"

 

"It is not, Lord Elrond, it is concerning me. I broke my word, as well."

 

"Estel!" Ellrohir shouted, "You did not leave Master Simeon's cottage?!?"

 

"Yes, I did, and more I may not say, not without breaking my word again, which I will not do -"

 

Lord Elrond fixed his son with an icy stare, "You - left - the child alone?"

 

"We - we were needed, to hunt the werewolf - we did not know that there was a mate -. we thought to leave Estel in safety, and we made him swear to stay there - "

 

"Never thinking he might well follow the example set by his guardians? You will leave us, for I must hear from Estel his reasons for emulating your behaviour. You will wait outside."

 

"Now, Estel," Lord Elrond began as Ellrohir moved haltingly toward the door, "What is it you have done, and why?"

 

"I fear I have done an ill thing, My Lord, for I found a werewolf, but, I did not slay it, I knew it not for a werewolf when I first found it, only a cub, and when I saw it was a baby, and I knew - indeed I could not harm her - I - did not think - what of those she may slay in her turn, when she is grown?"

 

"Lord Ellrohir, you will shut the door - behind you, and if you attempt to listen through it, I will surely send you forthwith to your grandmother, with an account of your misdeeds!"

 

Chapter 22 - The Guilty Are Punished

 

Lord Ellrohir had been pacing up and down before his father's door, and it was only the fear of his Noldor grandparent which indeed kept him from attempting to listen.

 

When, finally, the door opened, Estel emerged, somewhat shamefaced.

 

"We - that is, Lord Elrond and I, have decided upon our punishment - that is, yours and mine - for breaking our words." He gave a great sigh. "We - are not to be allowed to attend the feast which Lord Elrond will give in honor of the heroes of the Battle of the Five Armies, for word has reached him that at least the great wizard, and the Half - no, that is the Hobbit, will pass through Rivendell on their return."

 

Ellrohir nodded solemnly, although he wanted to leap into the air for joy - the prospect of listening to yet another interminable description of that battle was not nearly so attractive to him as it was to Estel.

 

"And," Estel continued, "I have not told Lord Elrond this, yet, - but, I release you and Lord Ellrohir from your promise regarding Bree." He turned to Lord Elrond, "And, My Lord, I release you as well, in the matter of this birthday wish, and also in the future. I am - too old to continue following childish ways, and I know that - I have caused great disorder in your household, with my wishes."

 

Lord Elrond bent and embraced the boy, "Estel, you do my household honor. Now, go and rest, and you may stop in the pantry on your way, and you may take sweetmeats enough to make up for the ones you dropped on the floor."

 

That was too much for Estel's resolution to give up childish ways, and he darted off quite happily.

 

"You may inform him," Lord Elrond said absently to his son, "That I did NOT say that he could not hide, as is his custom, and watch the feast."

 

Ellrohir grinned, and then noticed that his father's face was almost grey. "My - My Lord?"

 

"Fetch the Lord Glorfindel to my presence, and you may join us."

 

Epilogue

 

When Ellrohir had fetched Lord Glorfindel, Lord Elrond related Estel's tale of the little werewolf - and the Great Werewolf to them.

 

Ellrohir buried his face in his hands, "Father, we only thought to keep him safe, and, instead, we left him to face a greater danger than we could have encountered had we kept him with us!"

 

"I think that, when we have looked into the matter of the slain traveler," said Lord Glorfindel, "We will find that it was most probably he who was carrying away this baby - his baby - and from its mother. Who followed him, slew him, and was slain by the Ranger party in her turn."

 

"But, why?" Ellrohir was puzzled.

 

"As Estel reasoned, the baby is of the line of the Great Wolves of Morgoth - and the males of that line are sterile, for Morgoth himself feared his creations, and did not wish that they should breed. However, the females of the line discovered that they could mate with Men, and so, the line has continued, for these ages, its power lessening, it is true, but still fearsome, nonetheless.

 

"I believe that this father discovered, by whatever means, that his daughter became a wolf at dusk - and was trying to seek aid for her from Mithrandir, who is known to frequent Bree, and to leave and receive messages there. His mistake was in not slaying the mother first."

 

"No doubt," Ellrohir sighed, "He loved her, and could no more slay her, than their child - and perhaps, she loved him as well, but her fear for the child was the greater. There are few who would leave either mother or child alive, knowing them for what they were."

 

"The mother would have sent out a call, to her kind," Lord Glorfindel continued, "And whichever of the line it is who rules them - west of the Misty Mountains, by her promise to Estel - answered that call, and the baby's tiny one as well."

 

"By sparing the baby Estel appears to have done a great service to the Men of the West, as well as the Halflings. Certainly enough to far outweigh any harm that the little one may do, when she is grown," Ellrohir replied. "And, it is obvious that she forebore to harm Estel, out of gratitude therefore, is not all well, that has ended well?"

 

"Speak to this fool," Lord Elrond turned to Glorfindel.

 

"My Lord Ellrohir - by Estel's description, this Wolf is ancient and powerful among her race, perhaps not many generations removed from Morgoth's original creations, and by her message to Lord Elrond, through Estel, it is clear that she knows him to be the Heir of Isildur. The question is, wherefore did she not slay him - and the answer, is not out of simple gratitude."

 

"Nor will it be out of simple gratitude if she chooses not to reveal his existence to the Enemy," added Lord Elrond. "There are those of Melkor's creatures who have no love for Sauron, but their purposes are as evil as Sauron's, or as Melkor's before him. No, my son, all has NOT ended well, In fact, all is far from ended."

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