"I will not say, 'Do not weep', for not all tears are an evil."
Gandalf, ROTK movie
The wind outside wailed as it blew through the valley. It was the Winter's solstice, and Estel's sixth year upon Arda. Normally this would be a time of great excitement as the youngster opened presents in honor of his birth and feasted on all his favorite treats. However, this year a cloud seemed to cling to Imladris and all her inhabitants.
In the weeks since their return from Mirkwood and the horrific attack in the mountains, Estel had said only one word. He said, "Ada" when his eyes first found his father. After that...nothing. His brothers had tried everything to bring a smile to his face, but the child remained solemn. Worst was the fear that still radiated from him when he was separated from Elrond, as though he only felt safe in his father's embrace.
So it came that here the family was, gathered to share Estel's birth-day, in their third floor sitting room, with Glorfindel, Erestor, Sariboril, Legolas and Celeg as special guests. The room was decorated in the warm colors of autumn, and the fire burning in the huge fire place cast a soothing glow over the burnished wood. Estel loved this room because of its coziness. Here the family would often gather for intimate gatherings and celebrations. It was their sanctuary in a home often playing host to wanderers and refugees from near and far.
Estel had met several different life forms while living here, but some were best kept for when he was older. Dwarves, in particular, tended to lose themselves in bawdy songs and ribald revelry after a bit of wine, so Estel was always kept away from those particular gatherings. At those times, when the requirements of diplomacy called Elrond away, the twins, Glorfindel or Erestor would eat with and entertain the child here.
Tonight Estel was sitting on Elrond's lap. The bruises on his face had faded and the cast was gone from his arm. Even the scar from the bore mite had faded to a pale pink. The remaining scars were mostly internal ones, ones seared onto his psyche during the orc attack.
Celeg felt ill at ease, but could find no gracious excuse not to accept the Elf Lord's invitation. It was obvious to him, however, that this group of elves was very close. He knew, of course, of the times Legolas had journeyed to Imladris, but had no idea how much a part of the Peredhil family his Prince had become.
The family and guests kept up a lively discussion, attempting to keep a festive atmosphere for Estel, but their hearts were not really in the celebration...not with Estel still suffering. It was Legolas who had the idea first.
"Elladan, tell us about the night Estel was born!"
Elladan shifted, wincing ever so slightly as the movement pulled his injured shoulder. He looked over at Estel. "Would you like to hear it again?"
Estel nodded, settling back against Elrond's chest...his eyes never leaving Elladan.
"It was a snowy night, much like this one," began the twin.
As Elladan began the tale of Estel's birth, Elrohir wandered over to stare out into the night, his mind restless.
Elrond's eyes followed Elrohir as he drifted over to the terrace entrance. He sensed the disquiet in his son...indeed felt the dissonance within all his sons this night.
Listening to Elladan's tale, Elrohir thought back to his desperate run with Arathorn to lead the orcs away from the cave where Elladan was protecting Gilraen, their pace deliberately slower than it might have been so that the orcs would sense their vulnerability and pounce. Little did they know there would be a beautiful baby awaiting them when they returned.
Elrohir smiled wistfully as he remembered Arathorn's nervousness. Even as they ran, he fretted over his wife and the coming baby. 'Would he be a good father?' Arathorn had worried. The twin gazed out at the peaceful scene, his mind in the past. Night had fallen, and the torches burning below made the snowflakes look almost like fireflies. Elrohir's eyes misted as he thought about the night, just a scant two years after Estel's birth, that Arathorn was killed. Had his and Elladan's lust for vengeance caught Arathorn in its trap and cost him his life?
The torches blurred as Elrohir blinked back the tears and the morose thoughts. Tonight was Estel's birth-day celebration, and the last thing he wanted to do was make anyone feel worse, but he missed his friend. How many of Elros' line had he loved and buried? Too many... The mortals envied the First Born their immortality, but there were times when it was no gift.
Erestor had noted Elrohir's restlessness and seen Elrond's eyes following him. The Seneschal nonchalantly poured a glass of wine and joined the twin.
Elrohir felt the familiar touch on his shoulder and turned to meet Erestor's compassionate eyes.
"Care for a glass?" the Seneschal inquired, though they both knew he was offering so much more than just the cordial.
The twin glanced back to the family gathering for a moment before speaking softly. "I have made so many mistakes..." He sighed and shook his head.
"Mistakes are part of life," smiled Erestor. "Think you that I have not made my share? The mistakes I have made are legion." He stood silently by Elrohir, content to wait until the twin spoke again.
Presently Elrohir dropped his head. "I wish that I could have spoken to King Thranduil before we left the Greenwood. I regret the words I said and wish to make things right."
Erestor nodded. He had expected as much. "Thranduil is not going anywhere. Time is one thing we elves have plenty of."
Elrohir snorted. "And just how am I supposed to make things right when I will be skewered by his guards should I show my face again in Mirkwood?" He quickly looked around to see whether anyone had noticed his outburst, but all seemed riveted on Elladan's tale.
Of course, that was exactly what Legolas wanted the pair to think. It was not that he intentionally listened to the conversation, but Elrohir's last remark had been unmistakable. The Prince smiled as his mind began to work on the knotty problem.
Erestor put his arm around the twin's shoulders and turned him back towards the family. "Come, lay aside the mistakes of the past for tonight. They will still be there for you to pick up tomorrow." His smile of comfort accompanied the words as he drew Elrohir back to the family circle.
Elladan had moved over to kneel before the rock-ing chair. Never taking his eyes from Estel, he held out his arms.
Elrond, along with everyone else in the room, held his breath, waiting to see how Estel would react as Elladan went on talking softly. "The first time I held you, you looked up at me with such trust that I smiled even as my heart melted."
Estel chewed his bottom lip for a moment and then slightly moved forward, blinking uncertainly. With each passing moment, however, he seemed surer of himself, if haltingly so, as though testing the new feeling as one would a rickety ladder.
All the while Elladan held stock still, his arms outstretched, his eyes locked onto Estel's, willing his brother to take the step of faith and trust. He knew they were still inside the child, he had just to remember them. With tears in his eyes, Elladan breathed, "Do you remember what I called you?"
With those words, Estel moved forward into Elladan's arms, wrapping his own around the twin's neck and hugging him tight. And then the miracle of his birth-day happened again as Estel's soft words brought joy to their hearts. "Little love."
Glorfindel would have whooped, if he had not feared to break the spell that had fallen upon the room. Sariboril had tears streaming down her face, and Erestor's eyes were misted over. No one dared move.
Even Celeg was affected by the familial scene. It was evident to him that Estel was very special to this family, and he smiled to see the joy on their faces.
For Estel, it was as though the dam had burst, and the words so long denied could finally come forth. "I missed you, Dan!" he cried, hugging the twin even tighter.
Elladan soaked up the balm of Estel's love as a salve to his wounded spirit. He had to keep faith that his arm would heal just as he had asked Estel to trust. "That's right," he cooed. "Hello, little love!" He kissed the unruly curls and laughed out loud. In a burst of exuberance, he jumped up and spun around, holding Estel out so that he could watch the boy's face. The smile on his face was soon mirrored on Estel's, and finally a chuckle escaped the boy.
"Enough," Elrond laughed, "else he will be too tipsy to enjoy his cake!"
"Cake?" cried Estel, eyes alight with joy for the first time in weeks.
"Of course, cake," Erestor pretended to huff. "Do you think I would not have your favorite cake ready for your birth-day?"
"Look," laughed Elrohir. "Someone special has decided to join the celebration!"
From the terrace, wet and snow covered, Fluffy pranced in with all the feline dignity he could muster, daintily giving each paw a shake to shed the snow.
"Fu-luh-fee!" squealed Estel, quickly looking to Elrond.
Such was the joy on Estel's face, that Elrond felt he would probably have allowed Celos and Celon to join the celebration, though, thankfully, they could not climb the trellis as Fluffy could. With a nod, Elrond granted his permission for the cranky cat to join the festivities.
So it came that Fluffy gained permanent entry to the Last Homely House, becoming Estel's constant companion and the only one he would not take a swipe at with his huge claws.
Outside, the trees were becoming shrouded in white as fat, lazy flakes drifted down, blowing in patterns created by the blustery weather, but inside love bathed all in its warm glow as healing hope touched all their lives.
A/N: My friends, my heart is as full as Estel's as I finish this story. I cannot thank each of you enough for taking this journey with me, and I pray that it has blessed you in whatever way you needed.
After a brief rest to catch my breath, I will begin Returning Hope.