The Valar are, like Elladan, apparently bored occasionally. How else to account for the fact that at this singular moment in time, Elrohir also returned from the OEP? Notwithstanding that he was, if anything, more tired and filthy than Glorfindel, he also found himself suddenly reenergized by the screams of his little brother. He ran for the room. He found the entire staff of the house clustered at the door. None dared enter as their august superiors appeared bent on killing each other. Elrohir angrily shoved his way through the assembly as they warned him of some strange sickness that had attacked the rulers of Imladris.
"Do not go in Elrohir! They have all run mad! Surely you will be struck as well!"
Ignoring them, Elrohir imitated Glorfindel as he stood dumfounded in the doorway. Things had deteriorated in the last few minutes. Erestor, afraid his vaunted intellect could take only so much pounding, even if it was at the hands of his Liege, was fighting back. Nothing had changed with Estel; he was still just standing and screaming. Glorfindel stood close to the bed, trying to bandage his freely bleeding thigh with one hand while trying to separate his two good friends with the other. The bandage he tried to use was still attached to Estel. It was tugging at the little body.
Elrohir, always cool headed, decided the first thing to do was to stop Elrond and Erestor. He strode forward boldly and laid a firm hand on his father's shoulder. Elrond, not missing a beat, flailed backward at the impertinence that impeded his vengeance-taking. He socked Elrohir directly on his straight and elegant nose. A scarlet river erupted from its now broken source. But Elrohir was made of stern stuff.
"Let them kill each other," he growled through the red cascade that covered his mouth and turned to his little brother.
Estel had gone beyond mere crying into a far country of terror and confusion. His father and beloved Erestor were hurting each other. Glorfindel (it seemed) was trying to pull him off the bed and into the melee, and his dear brother was approaching him covered with enough gore for ten ordinary battles.
Elrohir had mopped futilely at his nose and mouth with his hands, but the sticky red fluid simply covered both hands and face and now made its way to his tunic below. He unthinkingly put those bloody hands on his little brother in an attempt to quiet him. Estel screamed at an even higher pitch.
At the very same time, Elladan walked into the front hall feeling quite pleased with himself. He was neither tired nor filthy. He had had a refreshing gallop that ended with, not a battle, but a short negotiation between feuding traders. All was satisfactorily settled and the success, as well as the fresh air and exercise, gave Elladan a wonderful sense of well-being. This lasted exactly two seconds.
He heard the sounds ringing through the house and ran, like all the others, to his human brother's room. Like Glorfindel and Elrohir had done, he stood rooted to the spot as he took in the drama within. He saw Glorfindel hopping about on one leg, trying to bandage himself with a bandage attached to the howling Estel. Erestor (!) and Elrond (!) were rolling about on the floor, too closely entwined to get in any more blows, but still struggling fiercely. Elrohir, who, by the look of him, was suffering from multiple stab wounds, was begging Estel to stop screaming while the child drew himself up against the headboard and ducked his head from the gruesome sight. The youngster was covered from the waist down with bloodily splotched bandages, half undone. However, one item in this montage of familial madness stood out and caused Elladan to turn as white as the sheet he had used to bandage Estel.
The child still stood with hands locked against his stomach.
Thunderstruck, Elladan understood at once that this was the origin of all the chaos within the bedroom. He knew neither how nor why; he just knew.
Now this must be understood: Elladan was no poltroon. He had proved his courage again and again and brought much renown to his own and Elrond's name. Nonetheless, the thought crossed his mind that no one had really explored the southern sea far from Imladris, and that right now might be the time for a long expedition with himself as chief explorer. In perhaps two or three Ages he might think of returning.
It was Estel that stiffened his backbone. The child's terror struck Elladan to the heart. Although he had obviously never intended any of this dreadful scene to happen, it was somehow his fault. He had to help his little brother. He drew a deep breath and began.
The first thing he did was to shove the hopping Glorfindel in the chest with both hands. The warrior sat down, hard, on the floor, and Elladan sternly commanded him to tie off his leg and tend to Elrohir. He swiftly parted the bandage that bound Estel and Glorfindel together with the bloody dagger that was lying on the floor. Now that Glorfindel was no longer hopping about, the wound was quickly bandaged. Sobered and somewhat chastened, Glorfindel then dragged Elrohir away from Estel and forced him to lie down so that Glorfindel could take the measures necessary to dry up the crimson fountain.
Elladan next stopped the combatants who had rolled into the middle of the room. He did this by simply flopping down on top of them and holding them still against the floor. Before they could recover from the surprise, he shouted into his father's ear. "Estel is hurt! You must help him, Ada!"
As he had known it would, this clarion call penetrated the red haze of rage that fogged the Lordly brain. Sanity, and fear, returned to the ruler of Imladris. He wriggled out from between Elladan and Erestor and went to his son.
Erestor climbed stiffly to his feet and backed up to lean against a wall. His own anger began to cool and as reason returned, he contemplated the appalling things he had been doing.
Elrond tried soothing Estel but the boy was too far gone to listen to tender words and gentle questioning about his health. Elrond grasped his son firmly with his hands at the sides of his head and gave him a little shake.
"Estel! Listen to me! It is Ada and I will fix whatever is wrong. But you must stop this noise and tell me calmly what has happened to you." His tone gentled again, "I know that Erestor did not hurt you and I am sorry you saw me hit him. Please, Estel, tell me what started all this?"
The crying mercifully tapered off, leaving only sniffs and hiccups in its wake. Elrond put his hands on Estel's and tried to gently pull them away; he wanted to see the injury that must surely be there to cause all these ructions. Estel again started to scream and struggle. Elrond instantly changed his tactics. He drew away his hands and spoke firmly.
"I will not touch your hands again, Estel. I will wait until you can tell me what has happened. Hush now, my little one. I have promised I will not pull your hands away. Please, Estel, tell me what is wrong."
Once again the crying tapered off. Elrond placed his hands very gently (and gingerly) on Estel's shoulders, drawing him into an awkward hug. Awkward because Estel still kept both hands on his stomach.
"Can you tell me now?"
"Y-y-e (hic!) es."
"Why are you holding your hands on your tummy? Did someone hit you there? Or stick you with something sharp?" Elrond's voice was steady but fear shivered in his own 'tummy.' Internal injuries were often too much even for his great skill and power in healing.
The boy shook his head, "no."
"Then what is hurting you? Did you eat something outside? Some of the red mushrooms, perhaps?"
Again the negative head shake. But now Elladan took a hand in the proceedings.
"I know what is wrong with him, Ada."
"Tell me, please."
Elladan allowed himself a moment to enjoy his bodily wholeness and then said, "He thinks, because the bandages are gone, that his entrails will fall out."
"I beg your pardon?"
"He thinks his entrails will fall out and he will die."
Elrond, totally and completely bewildered, asked, "Why would he think his entrails would fall out? How could they without a wound, and a large one at that?"
Estel, watching and listening intently, now pulled his hands away a little bit and peeked beneath them. He saw nothing to frighten him and pulled his hands farther away. He looked very, very carefully. He tentatively poked his belly button, then poked it firmly. Nothing happened. He began to relax.
Elladan sighed and braced himself. "He thinks so because I told him so."
Elladan backed up quickly before the menacing approach of his father. "Now, Ada…!"
"Because you told him so?" Two steps closer.
"Because—you—told—him—so?" Three more steps.
"BECAUSE YOU TOLD HIM SO?" Elrond was now breathing heavily down into Elladan's face. The younger elf fleetingly wondered how his father, who had been his own height since Elladan was 75 years old, had suddenly grown so much taller.
Elrond questioned further, his voice now under iron control (though his breath jetted from his nostrils like a maddened bull's). "Why, my eldest born, would you tell a tiny child, hardly older than a baby, that his entrails would fall out and he would die?"
Elladan considered possible responses and decided that, "Because it seemed a good idea at the time" was probably not an answer he could live with. Literally.
Meanwhile, Elrond's keen intelligence was quickly putting two and two together and getting dead elf.
"Hmm. It seems your tongue, which normally runs like a fiddlestick, is now silent. Let me see if I can reason this out. You, a young elf with an infinite capacity to tease and torment your brothers, had little to do this last se'enight. You became bored. So you told your baby brother (at this point you could hear Elrond's teeth grinding themselves to powder) that if he did not keep his stomach covered, his entrails would fall out and he would die. Is that anywhere close to the truth?"
Glorfindel, Elrohir, and Erestor silently edged as far away from Elladan as they could. Glorfindel stared at Elladan awestruck. He sidled over and murmured to Erestor, "It is rare to see a suicidal elf!"
Erestor, tenderly feeling his jaw, was not feeling kindly toward Elladan. He snarled back, "He had better watch out, Elrond has a mean uppercut!"
Elladan faced up to his fate. "Yes, Ada, that is the truth. I never meant for it to be anything but a prank. I thought he would fuss when you were going to bathe him and that it would be amusing to think of him trying to keep his stomach covered. That is all that I thought would happen. And," he said, looking around at the destroyed and bloody room, at the torn and dusty robes, and at Erestor's swollen jaw, "I do not understand all this. How Estel's stomach caused all this."
Elrond had the grace to look a little abashed at this point. "We all heard Estel screaming and some of us jumped to wrong conclusions and others of us did not react well during the crisis."
Glorfindel felt that it might now be safe to make a comment. "I do not understand how you could convince him his entrails would fall out. They never have before, after all, and Estel is a very bright child."
Elladan decided to get everything over with. "During the night, his belly button went 'in' instead of 'out'. He was worried about that and I…well, I just had an inspiration, you might say."
"You had better think carefully about where your 'inspirations' are coming from. I hardly think that one came from the Valar," Erestor put in.
Elrond kept to the main point. "That at least makes some sense, which I had begun to think had abandoned this House completely." He turned to Estel who was looking at Elladan with heartbroken eyes.
"Estel, do you understand what we have been saying? Your insides will NOT fall out. Many elves and men have belly buttons that do what yours did. It is perfectly normal." From somewhere he dredged up a smile for his youngest son. "You could say that now you have a grown-up belly button." He knew Estel would like that idea.
Estel was feeling much better. His insides would not fall out and the people he loved had stopped fighting and shouting and bleeding. Estel smiled and raised his arms to be held. Elrond gave him a tight hug but signed to Glorfindel to take the boy. Estel was willing to go to his Glorfy and when Elrond had seen him safely ensconced in the warrior's arms, he turned on his eldest son again.
"What am I to do with you? Can you not see that you have not only caused a great deal of upheaval, you have also hurt Estel badly? He loves you and looks up to you. I have said these same words to you again and again, each time you have upset him with one of your pranks. But I am at a loss; you have never done anything this hurtful before."
Elladan hung his head. Had he run mad? What had possessed him to think that Estel in fear for his life would be funny? Elladan walked over to Glorfindel and Estel, but Estel turned his head away from him.
"Estel, I am so sorry. I was wicked to do such a thing to you. Will you please forgive me?"
The little head, buried in Glorfindel's shoulder, shook 'no' for an answer. Glorfindel looked at Erestor. It was time for the great diplomat to earn his keep or there might be a serious breach between the brothers. However much Elladan had crossed the line, he did love his brother and if Estel would not speak to him or look at him, he would be devastated. Erestor understood the message the seneschal sent him. He thought a bit and then cleared his throat (which bore the prints of the hands of the Lord of Imladris).
"Estel, if Elrond permits, I think you should choose Elladan's punishment."
Elrond raised an eyebrow (and winced; it was bruised) but trusted his advisor. "I think that would be fair and appropriate, Estel. How shall we punish Elladan?"
Estel raised his head and looked thoughtful.
"No dessert for a hundred years?"
The elder elves all hid their smiles.
"That is a possibility my son, but Elladan does not like dessert so well as you. Try to think of something else."
Glorfindel whispered in Estel's ear and the child looked interested. He whispered again, longer this time, and the toddler laughed. Glorfindel explained, "Estel has decided. Tell them, little one."
"He has to be my servant for days and days! He must do whatever I say! He must play all my favorite games as long as I want him to. AND clean my room. AND bring me treats."
Elladan shot Glorfindel a sour look. Glorfindel, after glancing at his bandaged thigh pointedly, smiled sweetly back at him.
Resigned, Elladan said, "I will be your servant, little brother. I will do anything to show that I am sorry and that I do love you."
Elrond decided that while the punishment was rather unusual, he would leave well enough alone. "If that is what you desire Estel, that is the sentence I pass upon Elladan. With only this proviso: that he will still go on patrols when needed. Otherwise, he is yours to command."
Estel began at once. He ordered Elladan to carry him to Elladan's room and play 'horsey'.
Elladan sighed, "Yes, master," and off they went.
The remaining adults looked at one another sheepishly. None of them had acquitted themselves well that dreadful evening. Erestor decided to clear the air.
"Elrond, no doubt you believe you owe me an apology. However, considering the way that boy was carrying on, and what you saw when you came into the room, I do not feel one is necessary. Also, I am not entirely without fault as I believe I tried to return to you what I received, plus interest. Not the best attitude for an advisor to a great lord to have."
Elrond cleared his throat uncomfortably, "Thank you, Erestor; you try always to smooth the way when others have made a hash of things. I am actually in the same state as Elladan: I can not think of anything to say in my defense."
Glorfindel spoke up, "I too, did not shine. I was not exactly the embodiment of my own legends this evening. I can only say in my defense that Estel's unnerving screeching would affect anyone. I propose that the least said about the events of this night, the better. No one who was not involved need know anything about what really went on here. We will simply tell everyone that 20 Orcs snuck into Estel's room and we bravely killed them…or maybe more than 20," he said, taking a good look around the room for the first time. "There is rather a lot of blood and breakage."
Elrond, Elrohir, and Erestor agreed that 20 Orcs were no less believable than the truth. Together they walked slowly through the halls towards their quarters. They were exhausted. Elrond tentatively placed one hand on Erestor's shoulder. The advisor briefly covered it with his own. Glorfindel told Elrohir to follow him to the kitchen so he could make a compress for the swollen nose.
"I will have to straighten it, you know. I fear you will not enjoy the procedure, but try not to wail like Estel. My ears have not yet recovered."
Elrohir rolled his eyes, but started to turn in the direction Glorfindel indicated.
But just before the elves split up, they heard voices coming from Elladan's room. They all paused to listen and peek around the doorway. What they heard and saw made them smother their laughter with their hands as they hurried down the hall. They all turned into the library where they fell into chairs laughing helplessly. Elrohir said nasally but with satisfaction, "He is truly punished!"
This is what they heard and saw:
"Your servant is tired, master. May he not rest a little while before we play more 'horsey'?"
"Yes, he may rest from horsey, but I have other commands."
The weary voice answered, "I hear and obey."
"Then, next," said the second voice with fiendish glee, "SMELL MY FEET!"
"No, master, please, not that!"
The last thing the elves had seen was a little human boy stalking a large adult elf who scuttled backward on hands and knees, trying to avert his face.
A/N For my baby sister Holly, who said "belly-butter" until she was five.