Curious Mind, Noble Heart

Thank you to Karri for the challenge ideas and title, and to daw the minstrel for beta reading.

Estel was so engrossed in the mighty battle between the great eagles and dragons that he did not realize that Elladan and Elrohir had passed right by him. Elladan's laughter drew him from the First Age to the present, and he looked up to find them already having started down the path away from the house. He groaned, unable to decide what to do, because he really wanted to know how the story ended – but he really wanted to talk to Elladan and Elrohir too!

Turning his attention back to the book, he skimmed to the bottom of the page and read 'Thangorodrim was broken open and Morgoth brought forth and bound…' and a sigh of satisfaction escaped him. He knew how the story ended, of course, but he liked reading the words for himself. He carefully closed the ancient book, remembering Elladan's admonishment to treat the tome with respect. He smiled as he recalled how Elladan said their Adar had taught him to take proper care of the books. Estel liked to read too much to have his library privileges revoked, much less have to move each book one by one when the library was dusted and do extra chores when he forgot to do it right. Of course, he reminded himself, Elladan did not have it so bad, for he had a twin who always helped him and read to him from any book he wanted.

Tucking the book under his arm, he climbed down from the tree in which he had been comfortably perched and followed the path that the twins had gone down. He stuck his head in the stables, waving to the stablemaster, but they were not there. He stopped to admire Glorfindel's horse, who greeted him by nipping at his hair. Pulling a small apple from his tunic pocket, he gave it to the giant stallion who threw his head appreciatively. "You are greedy," he informed the horse. "And I think you only tolerate me because I bring you apples." He could swear that the stallion winked at him. Rolling his eyes at the horse, he trotted out of the stables. He followed the steeply curving trail down to the Forge. On one side, open to the air, Angren made swords and other items of metal, and in the larger closed in building, the Noldor smiths fashioned items of all types. Angren always welcomed him, but seldom had he been inside the smithy area.

He could see Elladan and Elrohir standing in the shadows cast by the trees. He was just about to call to them, when he heard Glorfindel laugh and say, "This is amazing!"

Curious, Estel moved around the outbuilding to the back, in hopes of seeing what, exactly, was amazing. It was noisy in the forge, but even still he was a little surprised when no one heard him climb up on a barrel. Precariously perched, he could see what was being discussed and he found himself in complete agreement.

He could not drag his eyes from what he saw, for he had never seen anything like it before. It was amazing! He watched as Angren pumped it up by moving a lever back and forth, and then he handed the object to Elladan. He watched as Elladan took aim down the long thin barrel at a bale of straw and fired, the loud 'pop' making him jump involuntarily.

"I see great potential for this," mused Elladan, excitement gleaming in his eyes. He turned to his twin. "Do you wish to shoot it?"

To Estel's surprise, Elrohir leaned back against the workbench and shook his head. "It is an interesting thing, but I do not see what value it adds. My arrows fly faster, with more force and I can nock and fire much faster than the gun can be primed."

Elrohir's words were like cold water poured on a smoldering fire. Elladan's shoulders slumped as he looked over the gleaming wood and metal in his hands, and Estel glared at Elrohir on principle. He turned his gaze to Glorfindel, who looked thoughtful, and then to Master Angren, who was nodding. "What Elrohir says is true," agreed Angren. "I have not yet thought of a use where we would not do better with bow or sword or spear. Yet I remain intrigued to see if we might further improve upon what we have, to make something that is better than anything we have."

Elladan fingered the weapon lovingly. "It is a thing of beauty, and perhaps a weapon of the future. What do you call it?"

Angren laughed. "I call it 'Pop' for the noise it makes."

"Pop," murmured Elladan. He considered the weapon carefully, lifting it in one hand as if weighing it, then turning it over. Suddenly, his face brightened. "One advantage it does offer is in skill. Elrohir, how many years have you trained with the bow?"

"The same number as you," laughed Elrohir. "Do the math."

Elladan scowled at him. "You are missing my point. Someone could be trained with this type of pop-gun in a short time, but to be adequate in battle with a bow takes long years of practice. That is where the future of such a weapon is found." He paused, thinking, then added, "And it can be handled by one of little strength - even by one who is injured."

Estel grinned and looked at Elrohir, waiting to see if he would admit this to Elladan. "Perhaps," conceded Elrohir. "Though, I would not relish the idea of having a great number of unskilled enemies so armed."

Elladan sighed and rolled his eyes, exasperated. "You are disagreeable and ornery today. Do I need to take you up to the training field and improve your attitude?"

Estel held his breath in anticipation, hoping Elrohir would take the challenge. He loved seeing his brothers in swordplay or bow competition! He willed Elrohir to accept, silently repeating 'say yes, Elrohir, say yes!'

"I would rather have lunch," replied Elrohir amiably, and Estel groaned. He clapped his hand over his mouth as all eyes turned to him, and many a brow was raised at his choice of roosting spot.

"Hello, Estel," greeted Glorfindel.

"Aiii!" squeaked Estel in response, as he was swept off his barrel, turned upside down and then set down with one ear held firmly in the captain's hand. He had to stay on his tiptoes to relieve the pressure on his ear.

"Estel, what were you doing?" asked Elladan, and to Estel's relief, he swatted at Glorfindel's hand, releasing his ear.

"Trying to learn what was so amazing that none of you heard me," grumbled Estel, rubbing his ear. He glared at Glorfindel, who smiled ominously in return. Estel knew his next sword lesson would be hard.

"You should have announced your presence, not sneaked around to the back to listen," Glorfindel chastised him.

Estel considered arguing, but he really had no defense, so he instead decided to try changing the subject. "Can I see the pop-gun, Elladan?" he asked eagerly.

Elladan grinned and Estel was sure he was about to agree when Glorfindel interrupted, "No, you may not. It is not a toy. Go clean up for dinner. Scoot!"

Estel found himself guided to the exit of the forge and gently shoved on to the path heading back to the house. He looked over his shoulder to see his brothers both grinning and Glorfindel scowling at them and him, and ducked his head to hid his own smile. He wondered if Glorfindel would scold the twins too.

oOoOo

Glorfindel scowled at the twins, focusing mostly on Elladan, though he did not spare Elrohir. "I am just beginning his training and the foremost thing he needs to learn is discipline. He should not be spying on people, no matter how harmless it might seem," he reminded them.

"I am quite torn as to what to teach him," announced Elladan. "As my little brother, I should teach him all the tricks to avoid getting caught. He has you and Adar and his mother to teach him proper behavior."

Elrohir grinned, waiting for the wrath of Glorfindel to fall on his twin, but a curious look came over Glorfindel's face as he appeared to seriously consider Elladan's words. "In some things, perhaps, he does not need so many parents," Glorfindel conceded, "but he should not be eavesdropping, Elladan. We have put too much effort into concealing his identity, and that could too easily be undone if he hears words spoken not meant for his ears."

Elladan sobered immediately. "You are right, Glorfindel. Despite my desire to give him a normal childhood, I need to be careful not to jeopardize all that everyone has done to keep him safe."

"I still think we should go to lunch," reminded Elrohir. "I am hungry. Estel will eat everything if we are late."

When they all just looked at him and laughed, Elrohir shrugged and led the way out of the forge and up the path toward the house.

oOoOo

Estel devoured his lunch as he considered the pop-gun. He had never seen such a unique looking weapon before. He really would have liked to hold it, and even fire it, just to see what it felt like. From what he had seen, the number of times one pumped on the handle determined how hard it fired. He wondered if it could shoot harder than he could shoot his bow. He had only been learning the bow for a short while, after all, so he was not yet really good at it, though he knew he would be some day.

"Did you save any food for the rest of us?" Elrohir interrupted his musings as he sat down next to him. Estel finished chewing after a quick look at his naneth, for she did not tolerate him speaking with his mouth full. He looked at Elrohir curiously. He had not seemed in the least bit interested in the pop-gun.

"A little," he answered after swallowing. "Elrohir, how long did it take you to be good with your bow?"

"Oh, at least a month," answered Elrohir solemnly. "It took Elladan a little longer, though, so do not worry. You have plenty of time to develop your skill."

Elladan rested his chin in his hand as he studied his twin. "Did you awake on the wrong side of the bed this morning, my dear brother?"

"Eat that before Estel steals it from your plate," suggested Elrohir to his twin, pointing at the portion that had been placed on Elladan's plate.

Estel looked at Elladan and rolled his eyes. Really, Elrohir could be impossible some days. "You are right, Elladan, he is being obtuse today," murmured Estel.

Elladan laughed and Elrohir grinned, but Gilraen interjected, "Estel, do not be impertinent."

Estel sighed and turned his gaze back to his plate. He finished eating as quickly as he could, in silence, and was just about to ask to be excused when he felt the gentle hand of his father on his head.

"You may go, Estel," said Elrond fondly. "Glorfindel will be a few minutes late. Follow Athranen's instruction at the archery field until he arrives." Estel grinned up at Elrond, then followed his ada's stern gaze to the twins. "Elladan, Elrohir, I will see you two in my study when you finish."

Estel bit his lip to keep laughing as he saw the looks on the twins' faces. He had never heard Ada scold them, but he knew that look! "Yes, Ada," he replied. "Naneth, I have to go change!"

He fled from the family dining hall, racing to his room before anyone could tell him to walk. He changed from his loose tunic and trousers to the clothing made for archery practice. This tunic was closer fitting, so that the sleeves did not get caught in his bowstring, and the pants tucked into boots made for him to wear while practicing archery or learning swordplay. He petted the soft leather, pleased, for they were just like Elladan's and Elrohir's boots. He dressed quickly, then pulled his hair back and fastened it with a leather thong at the neck. No matter how hard he tried, he could not make it look like Elladan's or Elrohir's. His naneth said their hair was different than his and she liked his better. He supposed naneths had to say that. He was pleased that Glorfindel told him that the twins were only half his size at his age. Putting his bow over his shoulder, he left his room.

He was walking past the family rooms when Erestor passed him, nodding at him and then entering Ada's study. Estel could hear voices inside, but only one word was clear: trolls. He paused when the door did not completely close behind Erestor. He fingered his bow as he looked up and down the hall. Glorfindel's words from the morning were replaying in his head, and he knew he should not listen at the door. Just for a moment, he thought to himself. That short of time is not really eavesdropping. He leaned against the wall, lifting his foot as if inspecting the bottom of his boot, in case someone saw him.

"… reports were of a two-headed troll along with two other large ones. They are further south than normal . . . perhaps, but travelers have been harassed…" Ada's voice faded as the door clicked close. Estel breathed a sigh of relief that at least he had not been caught. He did not want to be scolded twice in one day for the same thing!

But a two-headed troll! Who had ever heard of such a thing? He had never seen a real troll, just pictures that Elladan had drawn for him. Glorfindel, Elladan and Elrohir had all fought trolls when they ventured too near to Imladris. Never had they mentioned one with two heads, though. He hurried off down the hall and outside.

"Mae govannen, Athranen," he greeted the captain as he walked on to the field. "Have you ever fought trolls?"

"Hello, Estel. Yes, I have. Why do you ask?" answered Athranen, smiling at Estel as he did so. Estel liked Athranen. He did not scold like Glorfindel did.

"I was just wondering," replied Estel. "What is the best way to fight them?"

"The trolls in these parts are larger than Elves and Men, and they are difficult to kill because they have hard scales for skin. It is difficult to penetrate with arrow and sword," explained Athranen. "They are also very strong, so we do not wish to get too close to them. Sometimes all we can do is chase them back into the North. Or," and he grinned, "on occasion when a stone-troll comes near, we annoy them until daylight in hopes of seeing them turn to stone." He paused, moving to the closest target and preparing it. "Do your warm up exercises, and by the time you are done, Glorfindel will be here to begin your lesson."

Estel ran to look at the list of exercises that Glorfindel had posted for him, reading through them quickly and then hastening off to perform them. He would give Glorfindel no reason to find any more fault with him today.

oOoOo

Night had fallen and Ithil had risen, and still Estel could not sleep. He finally got out of his bed and walked to the window, looking to the north, where the trolls were. He had thought all evening about what Athranen had said, how hard they were to kill due to their hard skin, and how dangerous it was to get close to them. He had gone to the library and read about trolls, learning how Elves and Men would ambush them or try to lead the trolls to some demise, like a fall off a cliff, just to avoid combat with them that often led to the deaths of some of their warriors. But none had mentioned a two-headed troll. He thought they would be impossible to sneak up on, since they had two sets of eyes.

After today's archery lesson, he knew it would be a very long time before he could kill a troll. He had not done badly; Glorfindel had said he did very well today and seemed very pleased with him. But while his aim was improving, he still couldn't really hurt anything. Elladan had even teased him by catching one of his arrows in mid-flight. Then Elrohir had dared Elladan to do that with one of his arrows and Glorfindel had chased them both off the archery range. He smiled at the memory as he climbed back into his bed.

He couldn't sleep, though. His mind was still too busy thinking. "If I were to practice with that pop-gun, I bet I could hurt a troll, if I pumped enough air into it," he thought aloud. "I still would not shoot as hard as Elrohir, but I would shoot hard enough that the troll would feel it. Then I could help fight, and the more people helping the better." He kicked the covers off his legs. "I need to practice though."

He dressed silently, then went out on to the balcony of his room. No one else was sitting out there, so he climbed over the side and down the trellis to the ground. There were some elves sitting out by the waterfalls and in the gardens, but they were all singing or meditating, he decided, as none saw him as he slipped along in the shadows. He was as quiet as he could be, remembering all he had learned about moving along stealthily, as if he were tracking his enemy. He followed the path around to the forge, noting that while it was dark and quiet, there were faint lights glowing from the attached workshops.

It took him only moments to locate 'Pop'. He could scarcely breathe as he picked up the weapon, the wood of the handle warm to his touch and the metal cool and shiny in the moonlight. He was surprised by how light it really was. He looked down the barrel and realized it was not much different than preparing to shoot an arrow. He could do this! He shoved a handful of the small metal balls that Angren had made for ammunition into his pocket.

He took Pop and moved farther away from the house, crossing a small wooden bridge and heading into the woods. The archery field would have been the best place to practice, but he thought there might be warriors there, even at night. They would for sure tell Ada or Glorfindel.

He found a suitable spot in the woods, near enough to the waterfall that the noise was sure to hide the sound of 'Pop'. Fortunately, this was not a waterfall that Elves normally sat near to sing and meditate. Finding a suitable target was the next problem, and Estel decided he would just use the tree. He had grabbed Angren's paper target that had been attached to the hay bale, and he pinned it to the trunk of a nearly dead tree.

Moving back about the same distance that was used on the archery range, he stuck the ball in the gun and then began pumping the handle, just like he had seen Elladan do. He could not remember how many times Elladan had pumped it, so he just continued to pump until he couldn't move it anymore. He raised the gun and aimed at the target.

"Estel!"

Estel swung about, startled, and tripped over his own feet. He cried out as he fell, and then heard the loud 'pop!' of the gun discharging. Scrambling to his feet, he looked into the darkness to see which of his brothers had yelled at him.

He saw Elrohir lying on the ground, not moving.

Fear filled him, and he began to shake and the next thing he knew he was running back to the house. He crossed the bridge and raced up the hill near the forge, and as soon as he was in sight of the house he began to cry, "Ada! Ada, come quickly!"

He continued to race to the house, even as all the singing and meditating Elves stopped singing and meditating and came to see what was happening. He was in the courtyard when he saw Elladan walk out of the house.

"I killed Elrohir! I killed Elrohir," he screamed.

Elladan grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "Estel, calm down. Where is Elrohir?"

"Ac-cross the river from the forge, in t-the clearing," he sobbed.

Elladan released him and ran from the yard, and Estel felt a familiar hand on his head and then Ada was running past him as well. A few other elves followed, and then someone picked him up. He clung to Glorfindel, recognizing the smell of his soap, and sobbed into his shoulder.

oOoOo

Elrohir felt hands probing his person and voices calling to him, and he finally convinced his head tell his hand to swat them away. Instead of the annoyance leaving, he heard a sigh of relief as someone grabbed his hand and held it.

"Elrohir! Look at me," commanded his father.

"Arghh," he mumbled, forcing his eyes to focus on Elrond's concerned face. "Ow!" he added involuntarily, not sure what hurt more – taking a breath or the touch of probing fingers that ran down his chest. He felt the cool night air on his chest as his tunic was slit and removed, and then closed his eyes as someone held a lantern above him. "Ai, too bright," he complained.

"What in the world hit you?" asked Elrond, disbelief in his voice.

"This, perhaps?" replied Elladan dryly, and Elrohir half opened one eyelid to look at the small metal ball held in his brother's fingers.

"That would be it, and Pop should be nearby," moaned Elrohir.

"Pop? Who is Pop?" asked Elrond angrily.

"Not who, what," explained Elladan. He rose and scrounged in the grass for a moment, then returned with 'Pop' in hand. "Meet Pop, Adar."

Elrond scarcely gave the pop-gun more than a glance, now that he was sure it was not some enemy stalking his son. His fingers were now exploring the wet stickiness that was Elrohir's head. "How long were you unconscious?" he demanded.

"How would I know?" groaned Elrohir in reply. "I do not think long, Adar. I am sure Estel scared himself half to death and went right to the house."

"You have broken ribs," stated Elrond. "Pop hit you hard." He called out orders to some of the elves milling about, but they had apparently already brought what he needed, for the litter Elrond called for was being slipped beneath Elrohir a few moments later.

"Bring Pop to the house," he added to Elladan.

Elrohir felt his father's hands calming and soothing him before the elves carrying him began walking with the litter, and he smiled at how considerate his father always was. Elrond hated seeing anyone suffer, and he especially hated seeing any of his children in pain. He grimaced; Estel might be in some serious pain when Elrond was finished with him.

"Are you in pain?" asked Elrond gently, apparently having noted the grimace.

"No, Adar, I am thinking of the pain Estel is going to be in when you are finished with him."

Elladan laughed, as did a few others, but Elrond replied grimly, "He was absolutely distraught, screaming that he had killed you. I would imagine whatever punishment I deliver would still be minor compared to the fright he gave himself."

Elrohir grinned. "Should I play dead?"

"No!" scolded Elrond. He turned to Elladan. "Did he wake up on the wrong side of his bed today? He has been ornery all day."

"Glorfindel should have let me trounce him on the training fields this afternoon," retorted Elladan. "I told you he was unbearable today. And," he glared at Elrohir, "he will not tell me what is bothering him."

"Right now I am mostly bothered by what feels like a huge hole in my chest," groused Elrohir. "I still do not think that that thing compares to my bow, but I do have a greater appreciation for what it can do."

He was carried to the healing rooms, and gently moved on to a soft and comfortable bed. He would have liked to just bury himself in the comfort of the feather mattress and pillows and sleep, but, of course, his father insisted on completely examining him and treating his wounds.

"Elrohir?" came a tearful voice. "You are not dead?"

Elrohir looked to the door as Glorfindel guided Estel into the room. Pity filled him at the grief-stricken, tear-stained face before him. All of his orneriness left him and he held out a hand to the child. "No, Estel, I am not dead. Not even close," he promised.

Estel ran to him, clutching at his hand as if his very life depended on it. He hiccupped as he took a shaky breath, and Elrohir noted that their father visibly softened as he looked at the devastated youngster. "I am sorry, Elrohir," Estel hiccupped the words.

Elrohir smiled. "I forgive you, Estel."

"Estel, you need to go to bed now," instructed Elrond firmly. "You may see Elrohir tomorrow, and then you and I will speak in my study."

"Come, Estel, I will put you back to bed," said Elladan as Estel's shoulders slumped in despair. He wrapped an arm about the boy's slim shoulders and pulled him close as they walked from the room.

Elrohir closed his eyes as Elrond tended him, drifting along on paths of waking dreams. Unlike during the previous night, there were no trolls in these dreams, no terrorized villages with residents stolen in the night. He suddenly felt his father's mind touch his, and knew with certainty that it was Elrond who had chased those thoughts from his mind.

"I think I know what has been troubling you today," said Elrond softly as he washed the blood from Elrohir's hair.

"Hmmm," murmured Elrohir dreamily.

"Why did you not tell us?" probed Elrond.

Elrohir forced his eyes open and looked into his father's sad and knowing eyes. "Because I did not see reason to upset anyone else. How did you know?"

Elrond held up the paper he had taken from Elrohir's tunic and smiled. "Oh," grimaced Elrohir as he recognized the note he had received from the rangers. "I am sorry, Adar. Estel has been listening more to talk about the world outside of Imladris and I did not want that subject discussed where he might overhear and ask questions."

"We must take care, I agree, and I will speak to Estel about his behavior in listening to things not meant for his ears. But this is not something over which you should grieve alone, my son. Such burdens are easier born when shared."

Tears filled Elrohir's eyes. "In many ways it is a trivial thing, it is only a thing, after all, but it is near the anniversary of Arador's death. I still feel that mix of fear and anger when I think of the hill-trolls and how they took Arador and killed him. The Rangers found a cave containing a cache of treasures that the trolls had taken from their victims. I am glad that Arador's sword is back with his people, even if it is just a thing."

"A day may come when you can tell Estel about his grandfather's bravery, and how the sword was returned to the Dúnedain," said Elrond. "Now, you must sleep. Your ribs should heal in a day or two. I expect you to stay around the house until then."

"I would prefer to sleep in my own bed," said Elrohir, and to his surprise, his father nodded his agreement. He sat up gingerly, accepting Elrond's hand and they walked slowly down the long corridors to the suite the twins shared. Once he was comfortable in his own bed, his father sat in a chair in the corner. "Adar," yawned Elrohir, exasperated, "I would not have asked to come to my room if I had known you would feel compelled to sit with me."

"Only until Elladan returns," laughed Elrond. "I think Estel will fall asleep fairly quickly."

"I do not envy him tomorrow. My pain will be nearly over when his is just beginning. And Gilraen is not even aware yet of what has transpired!"

"An advantage of mortals is the soundness with which they sleep at times, and their less acute hearing," said Elrond, almost wistfully. "Gilraen will learn of this soon enough."

Elrohir did not recall if his father said more, for he found his hearing and sight fading as sleep overtook him.

oOoOo

Estel felt the sun warm on his face when he awakened, and realized he had slept late. He jumped from his bed only to see his clothing thrown haphazardly on the floor, and memory flooded him. His heart sank to his toes and he realized that the whimper he heard came from him. He was in so much trouble!

He looked back at his bed and wondered if he could just crawl back in and avoid Naneth and Adar all day, but he had learned it was best to face Ada Elrond first thing. Ada did not like him to dawdle.

He dressed slowly, unable to make himself hurry, then brushed his hair and teeth. Leaving his room, he knew he should eat breakfast, but it was late and he was not hungry. His stomach was best left empty. He walked down the hall to his ada's study, knowing he was dragging his feet, and finally stopped outside the door. He took in a deep breath and knocked softly on the door, half hoping that Ada Elrond would not answer.

The door opened, however, and it was Glorfindel who let him in. "Good morning, Estel," said Glorfindel with a smile, but Estel could not manage an answer. He just nodded instead. Looking up towards Elrond's desk, he saw his mother sitting with Ada Elrond, and both were watching him. He turned and looked at the door as Glorfindel left, and sighed, wishing he could go too.

"Come here, Estel," said Gilraen.

Estel walked to his mother with his head down, standing before her, unable to meet her eyes. To his surprise, she drew him to her and hugged him. He held her tightly, and then looked into her face when she pulled back. She looked worried.

"Estel, I have just heard a most outrageous tale of your behavior last night," began Gilraen. "Pray tell, what were you doing wandering outside during the night?"

Estel flushed, peeking at Ada Elrond, who did not look anything at all, for somehow he made his face show no feeling. He twisted his fingers into his tunic and scuffed his toe on the floor, but when Ada Elrond cleared his throat, which sounded stern, Estel sighed. "There was a pop-gun at the forge and Elrohir said it would not be better than his bow or sword and Angren agreed and then Elladan said that it would be good for someone who did not have years of training with weapons and then I heard that the trolls were close and Athranen said they are hard to kill and I thought if I practiced with the pop-gun then I might get good enough much faster and be able to help fight the trolls," he spoke rapidly, eager to have his mother understand. He took a deep breath. "But then Elrohir surprised me when I was just going to practice and I tripped and the gun went off and I killed Elrohir! Only, he was not really dead and Ada Elrond made him better." He finished, looked anxiously at his mother, hoping she would understand.

"You did not answer your naneth's question," interjected Elrond.

Estel gulped, trying to remember his naneth's question. He looked beseechingly at Ada Elrond and then his naneth, trying to recall what she asked. He was sure it was why he had shot Elrohir.

"She asked why you were wandering around in the night," reminded Elrond. "Thus far, you have only told us what happened while you were wandering around in the night."

"Oh," pondered Estel. He bit his lip and rubbed his nose, trying to think why explaining what he had done and why he had done it did not answer the question. He grew suddenly still as he understood what Ada Elrond was saying. He felt his face grow really hot and then his hands got sweaty. "I was out at night so that no one would know what I was doing."

"Why would you not one anyone to know?" continued Elrond, and Estel saw something in his face now, not anger or sternness, but something he could not identify.

"Because Glorfindel had already said I could not touch the pop-gun and because I am not supposed to listen to things that are not being told to me," he whispered, looking at the floor.

"Why do you think Glorfindel told you not to touch the pop-gun?" asked Elrond, his voice now kind.

"I did not know before, but I think because people can get hurt with it," he began, then paused and looked up. "But Ada! I can hurt people with my bow and sword, well, not as bad as I hurt Elrohir with the gun, but why can I be trusted with those and not with Pop?"

"Why do you think? How are they different?" challenged Elrond, but his voice was still nice.

"Well, I have lessons with my bow and sword, and rules I have to follow. I suppose Pop is new, though, and even the big elves are just learning about it," he mused, somewhat to himself.

"Where does following orders fit with this, Estel? Did Glorfindel not give you lessons on why you must follow orders, even when you don't understand why those orders exist sometimes?" asked Gilraen.

"Yes, Naneth," replied Estel, and he felt his face getting hot all over again. How could he have forgotten that?

"Did you forget that lesson, Estel, or did you purposefully disobey?" asked Elrond gently.

"I . . . I . . well, sort of both," he managed, and he realized his voice was shaking. He bit his lip again, determined not to cry. Big boys did not cry when they were disciplined. "I knew I shouldn't do it, Ada, I really did, but then when I thought about Pop, it was all I could think about."

Gilraen suddenly laughed. She covered her mouth, glancing quickly at Elrond, but he looked amused suddenly too. "There is a saying that curiosity killed the cat," she told Estel. "The cat is so curious he just cannot help but do dangerous things, and sometimes it gets him killed. You are like that cat – you did something very unwise and dangerous because you were curious."

"Curiosity almost killed the Elrohir," muttered Estel. He abruptly looked up at Elrond. "Elrohir really is going to be all right, is he not, Ada? He was not in the healing rooms, and they said he slept in his own bed even."

"Elrohir will be fine," confirmed Elrond. A stern look came over him then. "What is a suitable punishment for a young man who eavesdrops, disobeys an order to leave a weapon alone, sneaks out after dark, and accidentally harms someone?"

Estel gulped again. His list of crimes sounded terrible to him! He tried to think of what punishment Glorfindel gave to warriors who did not follow orders, but he couldn't think of any warriors who did that. A sudden horrible thought occurred to him: what if he was the only one to disobey orders? What if he was the first person to shoot Elrohir? He took a step closer to Elrond, putting one hand on his knee while still leaning against his mother.

"Ada, I do not know any others in Imladris who have done anything so bad," he admitted. He felt his heart drop into his shoes again. "I read that orcs whip someone who doesn't behave."

Elrond laughed and reached down to pull Estel up on to his knee. "We do not whip people in Imladris, Estel. But you do need to receive some punishment that will help remind you that what you did was wrong and help you to remember not to do it again. There is a little voice inside you that tells you not to do things that are wrong – you ignored that voice. You must learn to heed it." He grew quiet, and Estel leaned into his comforting presence, for somehow no punishment coming from Ada Elrond could be that bad. "Your naneth and I have decided that you will not have any weapons practice for two weeks, and during that time you will instead help to clean the forge and the stables, and do whatever else Glorfindel assigns you. You will serve others without asking why, or complaining."

"Yes, Ada," answered Estel, relieved. That was very suitable punishment in his mind. A tiny part of him wondered if Ada had not had to discipline many boys before, as he could think of many terrible things he had read in a book that had been done to bad people, and Ada had surely read those books too, but had not chosen any of those things.

"Ada, I have told Elrohir I am sorry, but I want to do something to show him I really mean it. May I go to him now?" asked Estel, an idea forming in his mind.

"Yes, you may. Then go to lessons, and after mid-day meal you will report to Glorfindel to receive your assignment for the afternoon."

"Naneth, I will need your help," said Estel as he slid to the floor.

Gilraen rose and took his hand, and Estel had to slow down for he wished to run to his room. They finally entered, and Estel rushed to his bureau. He pulled open the top drawer and withdrew the carved box that was inside. He carried it to his bed and carefully opened it.

"Elrohir once admired this pin, Naneth. He said it was something I could wear with pride when I was an adult. I want to give it to him," he said breathlessly.

To his surprise, Gilraen's eyes filled with tears, and she sat down on the bed next to the box. "Naneth?" he asked, concerned.

"That is a lovely idea, Estel. Here, let me help you release it from its nest," she said, first wiping away her tears and then undoing the clasp and removing the brooch. She secured the pin again, and laid it in Estel's hand. "I think Elrohir is in his room still."

"Thank you, Naneth," said Estel, and he flung his arms around her neck and hugged her again.

He ran from his room and down the hall to the rooms his brothers shared. He knocked on the door, then skipped inside when he was bade to enter. He saw Elrohir reclining on a bunch of pillows on his bed, and Elladan sitting in a chair nearby. A tray with breakfast was sitting beside the bed. To his relief, Elrohir smiled at him, and then held his arms out to him.

Estel climbed up carefully on the bed and hugged Elrohir as gently as possible. He could see the edges of the bandage peeking out from Elrohir's open shirt, and what looked like the edge of a big bruise. "Elrohir, is that what I did to you?" he asked, horrified and fascinated all at the same time.

Elrohir laughed and pulled his shirt open so that Estel could see the big bruise. "Oh!" cried Estel. "That must hurt! I am sorry, Elrohir."

"So you have said, and so I have forgiven," replied Elrohir mildly.

Estel stared at the injury for a moment longer, then shifted on to his knees to face his brother at eye level. "Elrohir, I am sorry for all the things I did wrong and mostly I am sorry that I hurt you. I want to give you something. You once said that this was an item to be proud of." He held out the brooch to Elrohir.

He heard Elrohir's breath catch and looked at him, worried that maybe Elrohir really did not like it. Elladan had stood when Estel held out the brooch, and now he walked closer, resting his hand on Elrohir's shoulder. Elrohir clasped it as he appeared to fight back tears.

Estel sank down, crestfallen. Elrohir had touched the brooch twice, but not taken it. Now he looked ready to cry and Estel had never seen his brother cry. He had come to make amends and instead made Elrohir feel worse. He bowed his head.

"Estel, this is indeed something to be proud of, and something that I will cherish," said Elrohir suddenly, his voice very kind and gentle. He took the brooch from Estel's hand and held it as if he treasured it.

Estel sighed in relief and smiled. "I have to go now. I have to do my lessons so that I can do my punishment this afternoon!" He paused. "I do not think Ada has disciplined many boys, because he did not pick any of the terrible punishments I have read about."

The twins laughed at that, though Estel did not know why, and then they both hugged him before sending him out the door.

oOoOo

The twins sat in silence long after the door was closed, and Elladan even walked to it and opened it, peering up and down the hall to ensure that a certain small boy was indeed out of earshot. He sat down next to Elrohir, and took the brooch in his hands, turning it over and then looking for and finding the mark he and Elrohir had made on it many years earlier.

"Arador's brooch," said Elrohir finally. "I think we will give this back to Estel on his coming of age."

"Perhaps someday he will be given Arador's sword as well," added Elladan.

The two looked at each other and laughed. "I am glad we have Estel to amuse us," said Elrohir, then clutched at his bandaged ribs.

"No laughing, brother!" said Elladan. "Come, we should go instruct Adar on proper punishments. He will be laughing for hours at that!"

The End.

A few short author notes:

This story was written in response to the Wood-elves challenge for April 2005, which included a curious child and a pop-gun. Thanks to Karri for her wonderful ideas.

Regarding pop-guns, Middle-earth had heard of them, as evidenced here:

The Hobbit, Chapter 1 - An Unexpected Party, Gandalf says, "It is not like you, Bilbo, to keep friends waiting on the mat, and then open the door like a pop-gun!"

So if Gandalf said it, then it must be true. I do not argue with wizards.

In this story Estel is about 7-8 years old. He has lived in Imladris (Rivendell) since he was two years old and his father (Arathorn) was killed. He was raised as a foster-son by Elrond, and his identity and heritage concealed. His grandfather (Arador) was killed by hill-trolls the year before Aragorn was born.

Thank you for reading – I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Nilmandra