By Ithiliel Silverquill
Try as he might, Peregrin Took could not keep himself from staring as he walked down the hallways of Rivendell.
Everything was so perfect—that was the only word Pippin could think of to describe it all. High and grand and timeless and perfect. It was as if Lord Elrond had taken a dream and brought it to life, and then welcomed perfect beings to live in it.
The Elves were all kind to him, of course. Some of them were tall and lordly, and they greeted him with a courteous bow as they passed him in the hallway. Others were almost childlike in their manner, and they gave him wide, bright smiles as he walked by. The bows made him feel very important—even though he knew he really wasn't—and the smiles made him smile in return. They would all notice him as he walked by, then they would turn to one another and talk excitedly in their meldious tongue. Pippin wished that he could talk Elvish like Frodo, because then he would be able to know what they said about him.
Suddenly Pippin caught sight of a familiar face among the endless sea of Elves. "Merry!" he called.
The hobbit turned from admiring a painting on the wall. "Pip? What are you doing?"
Pippin grinned. "Going to get afternoon tea. I wonder if the Elves have afternoon tea?"
"I wouldn't count on it," said Merry glumly, turning back to the painting.
"Well, they might," countered Pippin. "It would make sense. Even Elves get thirsty, I think. Remember that drink that Glorfindel had? The ale?"
"That wasn't ale, Pippin," said Merry, a reverent look coming into his eyes. "I don't know what they call that stuff, but it isn't ale. It was better than ale."
"Well, if they have drink better than ale, then maybe they have drink better than tea. Or maybe they just have tea; they'd be hard put to do better than tea."
Merry shook his head, making his caramel-colored curls sway back and forth. "They're Elves, not hobbits. They're not like us. I don't think they'd have afternoon tea. Strider didn't."
"Strider was out in the wilds with us, I'll have you remember," said Pippin, rising to the Ranger's defense. Of course Strider was civilized, how could Merry imply anything else! Because of course all civilized people had afternoon tea. "We hobbits didn't have it then, either. And anyway, I'm thirsty, so I'm going to go to the kitchen and see if the cook can find me something to drink."
"Don't make trouble, Pip," warned Merry as Pippin walked away.
Pippin sniffed and held his head high. As if Merry had cause to warn him not to make trouble! The very thought!
The kitchen seemed to be devoid of people when Pippin walked in. There was a nice cook-fire in the large hearth, and plenty of delicious-looking food on the table that he did not recognize. Everything was huge, even for Big People, but there was not a soul in sight.
He tried not to be disappointed. Apparently Merry had been right, as he usually was. Perhaps it was a silly idea after all, that Elves might have afternoon tea. They probably had a lot more important things to think about than that.
Even so, Pippin was still thirsty. There was a kettle on a shelf that seemed to be just the right size—for an Elf, anyway—to make tea, but it was far out of Pippin's reach. Perhaps if he pulled over one of the chairs and stood on it, he could reach the kettle.
"May I help you, Master Hobbit?" came a voice suddenly from behind Pippin.
He whirled around, startled, and saw an Elf standing behind him. He was tall, though not as tall as other Elves that Pippin had seen, and he had dark hair that came to his shoulders. His face was pale and fine-featured, and was graced with a polite smile that reminded Pippin of Lord Elrond. But the most prominent feature was his eyes—they were blue, as rich and deep as cut gemstones.
"I—I just wanted a cup of tea," said Pippin weakly, staring up at the Elf.
"Did you? Then our pursuits are the same." The Elf picked up the kettle and filled it with water and leaves. "I often have a cup of mint tea in the afternoon, and I would welcome your company, if you would like to join me."
"So Elves do have afternoon tea!" blurted out Pippin.
The stranger raised one dark eyebrow. "I do not know what you mean by that."
"Well, in the Shire, we hobbits have tea every afternoon. We usually have it with biscuits, or toast, or something like that. I didn't know that Elves did that, too."
"Ah." The Elf reached up to one of the shelves and picked up a small plate that was covered with a cloth. "It is not a usual tradition of the Elves as a people, unfortunately. I, however, enjoy a cup of tea in the late afternoon. Would you like some of these?"
Pippin studied the small objects on the plate. They looked like biscuits or cookies, baked perfectly, with a light dusting of spice on top. They smelled wonderful. "What are they?" he asked.
"I do not know what the head cook Meretheryn calls them, but they taste marvelous. Try one, and see if they are anything like what you enjoy in your home."
Pippin accepted the offer and took one from the plate. He knew it was probably wonderful—if an Elf called food good, it had to be good—and he was right. The wafer practically melted in his mouth, soft and sweet with a flavor like honey and cinnamon.
The Elf smiled, a real smile that seemed to light up the kitchen. "I thought you might like them. Many of us here in Imladris are fond of them, so Meretheryn keeps a ready supply."
"They're nothing like Shire biscuits, that's for sure," said Pippin. "That would be an afternoon tea to remember."
The Elf set the plate down on the table, then took the boiling kettle and poured the steaming liquid into two cups.
Pippin accepted the Elf's help to climb into a chair, and with the help of a few nearby recipe books, he was soon seated in such a way that he could reach the table. He blew on the hot drink, relishing the familiar smell. Mint tea was mint tea, whether made by Elves or hobbits.
The Elf took a sip of his tea. "Have you enjoyed your time here in Rivendell, Master… ?"
Pippin smiled. "Peregrin Took, but you can call me Pippin. I'm nobody's master."
The Elf smiled and nodded. "Very well, if you wish me to call you that, then I will. I am Erestor."
Erestor. Pippin had heard that name. And now that he thought about it, there was something vaguely familiar about the Elf. "Are you one of Lord Elrond's counsellors?"
Erestor flinched. "Yes."
Then it dawned on Pippin. This was the Elf that had been at the Council—the one who had called the Quest folly!
Neither one spoke for a few uncomfortable moments. Erestor fingered the handle of his teacup and stared at his hands. Pippin was not sure what to say to him.
Eventually the silence was too much for Pippin. He had to say something, anything. "We're leaving the day after tomorrow," he blurted out.
Erestor nodded. "So you are." The words were so quiet that Pippin had to strain himself to hear them. "Two Men, an Elf, a Dwarf, a Wizard, and four hobbits."
Pippin was not sure whether or not he could detect a note of sarcasm in the silvery voice. "Do you still think we're all fools?"
Erestor appeared startled by the question. "I beg your pardon?"
"At the Council. You said the journey was folly."
The Elf took a contemplative sip of tea. "I have thought much about Elrond's plan, and my own words in response to it. I cannot disagree with what I said: this quest is surely an act of folly." Then he looked up and gave Pippin a sad smile. "Yet perhaps Elrond and Gandalf have a measure of wisdom that I do not. You must remember, Pippin—the Elves are a fading people. Our wisdom comes from a forgotten age, and soon we ourselves will be forgotten."
Pippin held his breath against the twinge of pain that he felt. He had detected a subtle sadness in the people of Rivendell, but he had not been able to identify its cause or meaning. So this was why the Elves were so sad. They were leaving, and no one would remember them. "Not by everyone," he said. "The hobbits won't forget you. I don't see how anyone could." A world without Elves, or even without the idea of Elves—how terrible!
Erestor smiled. "I am honored by the thought, though I am still in doubt. Even if Frodo's quest succeeds, and the Dark Lord overthrown, what then? The Third Age will end, and the Fourth Age will begin. It will be an age in which the Elves fade to memory, and then to less than memory, and pass out of the world to their end. We will leave the shores of Middle-earth to go to the West, and there we will find peace."
Pippin frowned. "Then why are you sad? No matter what happens to Men or hobbits, the Elves are safe."
"Would you be happy if the Shire fell to the Dark Lord, even if you yourself were safe, along with your family and friends? Could you be content—nay, even happy—with the knowledge that the home you loved was left desolate?" The thin-fingered hand gripped the teacup more and more tightly as the silvery voice grew harsh with feeling. "Even so do the Elves love Middle-earth, and we grieve to leave it in the hands of Men, for they will forget, and all will fall to ruin."
Pippin picked up one of the confections on the plate and chewed it while he thought. "In the Shire," he began slowly, "we have a saying: All's well as ends Better. Maybe in the end it will be better for the Elves, and for the hobbits, and for the Men too."
Erestor looked at Pippin for a long moment. Pippin felt like squirming under the piercing gaze, but then he realized that there was a kind smile slowly finding its way onto Erestor's face. The blue eyes, the same that had seemed so fierce with despair, were softened, and there was something in them like respect.
"It appears that Elrond and Gandalf were right," said Erestor after a few moments. "It is fitting that the company be as they deemed it. The Ring exists because the Wise acted in what they thought to be wisdom, and in the end it was folly. Perhaps now, the only chance for victory will be fools acting in what we call folly. In the end, it may turn out to be wisdom. Perhaps there is hope for Middle-earth yet."
Pippin smiled and drained the last of the mint tea from his cup. "Maybe there is. Thank you for the tea, Erestor. It was kind of you to stay, with so much on your mind."
The Elf stood and bowed. "The honor is mine, Master Hobbit. You have lightened my heart, as none have for many a year. When the Shadow falls, and you return to Rivendell, perhaps we can have our tea and speak of more pleasant things."
Pippin reached over and took a few more of the tasty wafers from the plate. "As long as you have these."
Erestor laughed. It was a quiet silver laugh, and it reminded Pippin of the laughter of the little streams that ran through Hobbiton to empty into the Brandywine. "I give you my word that I will, if I have to make them myself. May the stars shine on your path, Peregrin Took."
The tall Elf bowed again, as if he was addressing a prince rather than a common hobbit, and vanished beyond the doorway like a specter of silver and sapphire and gray shadows.
Pippin slid down from his high perch on the chair and left the room, his smile almost triumphant. Of course he had been right, as he always was in the end.
Elves did have afternoon tea—and it was after all a very pleasant affair.