The stables at Rivendell were caves. Well, half caves really because they were open in front except for a screen of slender pillars. There were no stalls and certainly no ropes. The horses stood on an earthen floor covered by a thick layer of straw mixed with clover and sweet grasses, each feeding from his own manger and drinking from the fountain gurgling at the back. The lofts above were very cavelike with their low vaulted ceiling of rough stone and it was here the children had taken refuge, making themselves nests out of the straw and pretending to be the outlaw band of Barahir hiding from the Orcs. In fact they were hiding from their mothers. And their uncle. And most especially from Grandmother!

It had seemed like such a good idea at the time: They'd climbed the northeast wall of the valley and rested on a shelf next to one of the innumerable waterfalls, very hot as well as dirty, so when Berya suggested they make a pool to bathe in they'd all agreed - even Estel and Amin who weren't usually very interested in getting clean. They built a dam out of loose rocks and clay, getting very wet and muddy in the process, but instead of pooling the water had found another channel and gone plunging down right into the gardens far below. Of course they'd torn the dam down as quickly as they could but the damage was done. They meant to confess all and take their punishment, (as if Uncle wouldn't know who was to blame without being told!) but, as Hallam pointed out, there wasn't any hurry about it. Why ruin the entire day? Especially as it was likely to be their last day of freedom for some little time.

Meleth thought it very unfair they should be punished for what was, after all, a simple mistake. In the interests of justice she suggested they do something naughty on purpose. As they were already quite high up the choice was obvious. They climbed right out of the valley and spent the rest of the day on the fells. They caught fish with their hands in a mountain stream and cooked them over a fire to eat with the bread and fruit they'd brought from home. They picked flowers in a bog, getting thoroughly mired in the process. And finally built a fort out of crumbly stone which Hallam and Berya held very successfully against the younger three. All in all it had been a very satisfactory kind of day.

At sunset they climbed down into the valley and stole back to the House, pretending to be Luthien and Beren in Angband, before settling in the stable loft to fortify themselves from the store of sweets they kept there against the unpleasantness to come. Now that the hour of doom was nigh at hand their philosophical resignation was beginning to desert them.

"I wish we'd gone straight back after the business with the waterfall." Berya fretted. "It'd be over now."

"And we'd have lost the whole day." Hallam pointed out, yet again.

"It'll be bread and water and double translations for weeks." Estel said gloomily.

"A few days at most." Berya corrected. "You know the Elves will start sneaking us things to eat if it goes on any longer."

"I'll cry." Meleth offered. "Maybe that will help."

Estel shook his head. "Tears work on Elves, and maybe a little on Uncle - but not Grandmother!"

"No indeed." Hallam agreed. "Remember what she said the last time about being a naughty little girl herself and knowing all the tricks."

"I tried to get her to tell me what she had done," Meleth admitted, "but she told me she wasn't about to give us any more ideas!"

"Hist!" Amin said suddenly. "Ware, Orcs approach!"

At first they thought he was just trying to change the subject but then the rest of them heard the jingle of harness and deep grumbling voices from below. Wriggling to the edge of the loft floor they looked over. The first thing they saw was a large blue pointy hat - Gandalf!

Meleth gave a very small gasp of delight and the wizard looked up, directly at them, blue eyes twinkling. Then one of his companions said something and he looked down again to answer. They were Dwarves, more than a dozen of them, each leading a tired pony. This was fairly astonishing in itself as Dwarves and Elves don't get on as a rule and aren't in the habit of exchanging visits. But even more remarkably one of the guests, at the far end where the children couldn't get a good look, was shorter than the others and beardless, a child perhaps?

Long ago the Rangers had sheltered the refugees from Khazad-dum and helped them on their way to permanent haven with their kin in the Blue Mountains so the children knew Dwarves didn't 'grow from stone' and that their women and children didn't have beards as some ignorant Men said. Other children were always exciting, as they saw so few, and a Dwarf child would be trebly so for nobody ever saw them!

The Dwarves' voices were so deep and rumbly t difficult to make out what they were saying but mostly it was about dinner and sleeping dry and something about Trolls. They were obviously in a great hurry for they got the harness off their ponies in record time with only the sketchiest of rubdowns before trooping off with Gandalf.

The children promptly climbed down to get acquainted with the newcomers and were busily currying them when three of the stable Elves arrived with buckets of oats and mash. Then it was all up of course.

They were marched straight away to the nursery to be greeted with cries of dismay by their nannies, Nuneth and Iorwen, and assorted Elven attendants. "Good heavens but you're filthy!" Nuneth exclaimed taking Estel by the shoulders as if she meant to shake him.

"We washed before we came in." he said defensively.

Her answering look of open skepticism was not unjustified. The quick dip in a river pool had indeed removed most, if not all, of the mud and mire but it had also left them decidedly damp when they crawled into the stable loft. Now they were stuck all over with hayseeds and bits of straw and the girl's hair looked like bird's nests and the boy's hung in strings - not to mention the sticky mouths and hands.

Grown-ups tend to be over particular, Elven gown-ups especially so, but even the children could see they had a point this time. There was no help for it, off they went to the baths each with an Elf or two to see they remembered to use soap and to comb the tangles out of their hair. When the children finally met back in the day nursery they had been tubbed and scrubbed until they shone and dressed in their best which could only mean they were to be presented to the guests, a very unusual treat indeed.

Meleth, who at eight was the youngest, was very pretty even at her most unkempt with dark brown curls that had a coppery sheen in sunlight, huge grey eyes and a fetching sprinkle of little gilt freckles across her nose. With clean face and yellow gown, combed hair held back by a fillet of thin gold with a tiny gilt star on her brow she looked like the little princess she was.

Berya was not pretty and inclined to resent the fact. At fourteen she was long limbed and gawky with enormous hands and feet and nose and cheekbones too large for her thin pointed face. Glossy black hair that had never been cut and a pair of eyes grey as clear water under a twilight sky were small consolation. Bad enough to be a princess without a kingdom she would say, but a plain princess at that! and her mother and grandmother would smile at each other over her head as if they knew something she didn't. Still she was looking reasonably presentable in pale green with little, chiming silver bells and river pearls braided into her hip length hair.

Hallam was fourteen too, and every bit as lanky and unfinished looking - not that it mattered so much in a boy - with golden brown hair and an intense grey stare. Estel and Amin, at ten and nine respectively, were still at the pretty stage; both dark haired but Amin's eyes were a true, deep blue while Estel's changed depending on his mood. At the moment they were grey reflecting equal parts annoyance and apprehension. All three boys were dressed in shades of grey worked with gold and silver thread.

The children sat down to the supper laid out on the large table but ate very little being rather full of comfits, pastries and cakes. The Elves serving pretended not to notice as they squirreled away meat and fruit against the dearth to come. It was Glorfindel himself, Lord Elrond's herald, who came to fetch them. A familiar mithril casket in his hands.

"The Elendilmir!" Amin blurted, astonished, and Hallam and Berya exchanged startled glances as Glorfindel lifted the jewel from its casket.

It was a large Elf crystal, glinting like a star with its own light and attached to a collar of mithril and adamant. Long ago it had been worn as a crown by the High Kings of Old and the Chieftains still wore it from time to time on especially grand occasions. If Uncle had sent it to Estel the guests must be much more important than the children had thought.