Sequel to "Five Words in Winter"
Laer – summer
Orgilion, Oranor, Orithil, Orgaladhad: days of the week
A/N In my 'Young Estel" stories Gilraen died in the Orc attack that killed Arathorn. Also, no one but a handful of people in Imladris know Estel's identity, although the elven kingdoms would have been aware that Elrond had accepted yet another human fosterling. The gathering mentioned is not the "Council of Elrond" but a more informal meeting having as much to do with trade as fighting the forces of evil. Once in a very great while, Elrond uses corporal punishment (hardly ever, so don't flame me, please)
Mirkwood and Imladris
The prince of Mirkwood gave a sigh of contentment as he and his small band of warriors left the borders of his home behind them. He always felt a twinge of guilt at how much he enjoyed escaping the grim atmosphere that was a result of the dark forces at work in Dol Guldur and the deadly giant spiders that seemed to extend their territory with every passing year.
It was seven years ago that Legolas had felt the darkness was overcoming his spirit and that he would eventually become nothing but a blade and a bow, an automaton, having no purpose except to deal death, having no hope that a brighter future was possible. Then, in a winter so hard it seemed the Valar had abandoned Middle-earth completely, he had found hope in an ancient ritual unique to the Silvan elves. He had found hope in the news that a new fosterling had been taken to Imladris and through the ritual had learned that, somehow, this Hope would be central to the saving of Middle-earth. He had also learned that in some way this human fosterling would be important in his own life.
It had taken every bit of stubbornness he possessed to finally get his father's permission to journey to Imladris. His father was not unkind; he simply did not understand why Legolas was in such a hurry. "You were there only fifty years ago! Why the urgency? Two years, twenty, what difference can it make, my son? Surely you may go, but not when we are so hard-pressed here."
"Father, what was the point of making Aignor my second if I cannot leave affairs in his hands from time to time? He thinks you do not like him, or that you feel he is incapable of command."
Thranduil snorted. That had not been one of his better ideas. He had wanted Legolas to begin to assemble a retinue, but he had never intended his son to hand over such an important post to a blatherskite. "Nonsense! I like him well enough, though his tongue runs like a fiddlestick. But command? Just last week he bowed so low to me he fell on his face. And the week before he strung Lindien's linen on that dead tree on the road to Lake Town!"
"He was not on duty when he did so. What difference if he has a merry heart so long as he can lead our warriors? They trust him and so do I. Please, Adar, give him a chance to show you what he can do."
The argument had lasted for six years, off and on, but Legolas had prevailed. It was a pale and suddenly serious Aignor that assumed command for the defenses of Mirkwood, vowing to care for his prince's kingdom in his absence. He stood beside Legolas' horse for a final farewell but his eyes roved continuously over the assembled escort, checking that all were properly accoutered. His gaze sharpened on a horse that stood with one foreleg placed slightly before the other, with the knee bent. He strode to the piebald's side and ran a hand down the leg, frowning at the heat he felt. He then stood and barked at the rider, "Get another mount; your horse is throwing out a splint. I should stand you down for such carelessness! You have five minutes!"
Legolas smiled down at Thranduil, who stood with his hand on the neck of Legolas' horse. "You see? He is harder on them than I am."
The king merely huffed a little then looked up at his son again. "Since you are determined to take this journey, I suppose I should give you this." He pulled a folded parchment from his tunic and gave it into Legolas' hands.
The prince took it, scanned it quickly, and then recited aloud. "Greetings to the King of Mirkwood. Be herein advised that upon the 17th day of Laer, a convocation will convene in Imladris to discuss the grave developments of this past year. The Lord of Imladris feels that an informal gathering of men, elves, and other free peoples of Middle-earth who may choose to attend will be of great benefit to all. Imladris will be pleased to receive whomever you should send and will grant them all courtesy. Erestor, Chief Counselor to Lord Elrond." Legolas glared at his father in exasperation. "What Age were you planning to mention this to me? You do realize the gathering will be nearly over by the time I arrive?"
"You can get there in time; you will just have to bestir yourself a trifle. It will be good for you; your life is too soft here—feather beds, royal cooks – "
"Spiders, back-to-back patrols, Orcs—and may I repeat, spiders?"
As usual, Thrandruil ignored minor points that did not contribute to his argument. He waved a hand airily. "All you young ones do is complain. Are you ready?"
"Yes, if Aignor will stop fussing. Adar…take care while I am gone? You are a stubborn, irascible old elf but I would miss you a little if something happened to you." Legolas wished at times that he and his father were as open about their feelings as his friends in Imladris were, but the patterns of an Age were hard to change, and the two did care for each other deeply.
Thranduil gripped his son's knee tightly but laughed up at him. "The nut falls not far from the tree, little leaf, for you have taken my stubbornness and doubled it, else there would be no journey at all! Now, be off with you!"
Legolas signaled his elves and the group turned toward the path that led away from the palace. Those remaining behind raised their voices in song and soon the forest echoed with lovely melodies calling for good weather and the Valar's blessings. As the last glimpse of his son faded into the shadows of the woodland, Thranduil sighed and whispered, "Fare well, Greenleaf. Return safely to me."
So it was that the prince finally left the dark wood behind him. As the warm rays of the early summer sun struck his face he laughed aloud and rose in his stirrups, singing a stirring ballad and urging his horse into a gallop. His escort caught his mood and soon all were racing along the Old Forest Road toward the Misty Mountains. Legolas felt a sudden intoxicating rush of anticipation; in just a little over a week he would meet his Hope!
It was late evening in the Hall of Fire and the guests of the valley of Imladris as well as its residents were gathered to enjoy relaxing entertainments after the stresses of the day. As usual, tempers had flared as old grievances were brought forth to interfere with new alliances and treaties. Lord Elrond's headache pounded in rhythm with the bodhrans of the musicians as he moved among the crowd: smiling, bowing slightly, smiling, greeting with a brief touch, smiling, and yet more smiling. He mused that at times he would rather be a scullion than Lord of Imladris. At least they had the freedom to frown when they had a headache, and they would be in bed well before dawn.
Far across the hall from the music, Erestor led a lively political discussion. He skillfully maneuvered the conversation into the channels he desired and by the time he was finished, several recalcitrant conference attendees believed that they had come up with the ideas Erestor had carefully inserted into their minds. As he glanced in that direction, Elrond smiled a genuine smile; watching the councilor appear to hang upon every word of the greatest idiot among three races was a delight, especially if you knew him well enough to imagine his internal comments about the hapless half-wit. Elrond watched his friend at work for a few moments longer, then swept his gaze across the hall. The sky had turned a red-streaked violet as the sun set behind the valley cliffs and Elrond had one particular appointment that could not be deferred. He began to search in earnest as he moved through the shifting crowd.
For those seeking to escape both politics and the noise of the musicians, a quieter group by the fire told stories in hushed voices of the strange things that happen in lonely places when one is traveling all alone. Such stories are enjoyed by all races and this was an opportunity to have a friendly competition in producing thrilling shivers and gasps. The elder twin son of Elrond sat in this group, smiling slightly as a familiar tale was told. Against his side, pressed close, was another listener whose wide eyes spoke of intense interest or even fear. A sudden shudder brought Elladan's head around and he whispered, "Ah, young one, I think perhaps I should not have let you listen to this story. Let us go and find our brother and get you along to bed."
The child clinging to his side grasped a handful of tunic in his hand and said urgently, "But I want to hear the end! What was the tapping and moaning? Was it – " He gulped, then continued on, dropping his voice to a hoarse whisper. "- Orc ghosts!"
Groaning internally at the thought of the nightmares sure to torment his little brother, Elladan stood and pulled the human after him. "What an imagination you have! Orc ghosts! Orcs are too ugly to have ghosts. Ai, here comes Ada. Let us not tell him of these stories; he will think you are too young to hear them."
The child nodded vigorously as he grinned up at Elladan. When he was smaller he had called what they were doing, 'hiding things from Ada.' Now, following the example of his brothers, he called it 'saving our Adar from needless worry when he has so many grave responsibilities.' It was wonderful having older brothers in oh, so many ways!
The two, one a mature elven warrior and one a nine year old human, hurried to intercept the tall, beautifully robed figure that moved serenely toward them. The ruler of Imladris was dressed in full ceremonial robes of crimson and gold to honor his guests and his hair was elaborately braided, but he gracefully stooped down to accept the reaching arms of his foster son.
"My Estel, I am very pleased with how well you have behaved this evening. And if my eyes do not deceive me, there is not one stain upon your new tunic. Will you go with Elladan and prepare for bed? I cannot leave our guests just now, but when I escort the nobles to their rooms I will look in on you."
Estel frowned. "You did not say good-night to me last night. I waited and waited!"
"It was very, very late when I came to your room, but I always look in on you, even if you are asleep." Elrond was well aware that the child that had been orphaned suddenly and violently needed to know he could trust the word of those he loved. Everyone in the Last Homely House was careful not to make casual promises to the boy whom they had sworn to nurture and protect.
Estel's foster father gave him one last squeeze and rose to his feet. "How if we do this: you will go to sleep at the proper time for growing humans, and I will wake you when I come to bid you sweet dreams."
Estel considered carefully and replied in his most serious voice, "If you promise to wake me so that I know you have come, I will go to sleep when I am supposed to."
"Excellent! We are agreed – "
"After my story."
"Naturally. Now if you will excuse – "
"And my song."
"Of course, but – "
"And my treat."
This was too much for the elf lord and one eyebrow soared in a signal well known to the inhabitants of the valley. "Are you finished?"
The dark-haired head bent. "Yes, Adar."
A long-fingered hand, adorned this night with a large cabochon cut ruby, lifted the small chin and pinched it teasingly. "Good! Elladan, you are excused from the Hall while you and Elrohir tend to Estel. However, you will both return when you have finished."
"I was hoping to remain with Estel and read in his room while he sleeps. I have spent every night this week doing my duty, Adar!"
"You have. And you will continue to do it. You can laugh and jest with the men better than any of us and I want them wined and mellow so that they will be amenable to my counsel tomorrow."
"The things I do for Imladris! Come along, Estel. Elrohir has finished his song and will be ready to come with us." The two headed for the musicians and quickly found a near-duplicate of Elladan. The younger twin was dressed the same as the elder in robes that echoed the colors in their father's but were more tailored and had close-fitting sleeves rather than large, pendulous ones. Their hair was exactly like their father's; nearly black and hanging to their waists, though they scorned elaborate braids even for formal occasions, preferring their hair loose or held back in a single plait down their backs. Tonight it was loose and flowing, swaying gently as they walked out of the hall with Estel between them. "Elrohir, did you know that Adar – " Two pairs of dark grey eyes met, laughing at Estel's newfound formality. "- said I may stand beside him when the elves from Mirkwood arrive?"
"Very impressive! You must have been a very good boy. Are you excited to see them?" The three brothers moved on through the halls, Estel now skipping between the twins.
"Yes, for I have never met a prince before!"
"Oh no? What about us, we are princes, too!"
"No, 'Dan, I mean a real prince!"
Elladan stopped dead. The other two turned to see why he was not keeping up with them and saw a tragic sight. The strong warrior stood stricken to the heart. He covered his face in his hands and sobbed. Estel tugged at his robe desperately. "What is wrong? Are you hurt? Please, what is wrong!"
Elrohir simply stood, hands on hips, and waited for Elladan's latest teasing to play itself out. The heartbroken elf lifted eyes that were red (from the vigorous rubbing he had given them behind the cover of his hands and hair) and said brokenly to his twin, "'Ro, it appears we have been mistaken all this time—we are not real princes."
Elrohir did not play along and said flatly, "Yes, we are."
Very troubled, Estel looked back and forth between them. He wanted to comfort Elladan but he had a strong sense of truth, even if he did not always act accordingly. "Elladan, I do not want you to be unhappy but –"
"But I am sorry; you are not the son of a king. You must be the son of a king to be a prince." He put one hand on each brother, stroking them. "I am so sorry. I thought everyone knew that. I do still love you!" Now Estel began to sniffle in turn. "I do not care if you are not princes—you are my brothers!"
Elladan knelt and gathered Estel into his arms in a tight hug. "As long as you love us, I can bear not being a real prince."
Elrohir said dryly, "That is very intrepid of you, Elladan. Now, Estel, come along to your bath and tell us more about this real prince."
As the twins removed the boy's clothing and led him to their bathing pool, Estel gave them a learned dissertation on princes. "You must call them 'Highness' and you must bow all the time when you see them. They wear very fancy clothes with gold and jewels all over them, and they sit in special chairs way above all the other people. They are very handsome and very tall."
"Thank you for telling us, Estel. Otherwise, we would not know how to behave around Prince Legolas." Elrohir winked at Elladan as he lowered the boy into the warm water.
"And they wear crowns."
"Yes, thank you, Estel, now –"
"And everyone has to do what they say."
"Fine. Now – "
"And no one can make them take a bath or do –"
"- anything they do not want to do, because they are a prince."
"Let us drown him."
"Agreed! We will tell Ada it was an accident."
The twins began to tickle Estel, but he was wet and slippery, and all that happened was the twins became as wet as he was as he slipped and slid all over the smooth marble surfaces of the pool. Estel squealed with laughter as he shot through his brothers' hands like a cake of soap.
At last they managed a firm grip and pulled the dripping child from the fragrant water and enfolded him in an immense towel, wrapping it around and around him. Then Elladan slung him under one arm like a parcel and carried the wriggling, giggling Estel to his room. After a few bedtime stories—that did not, to Estel's disappointment, feature Orc ghosts—the yawning child was settled for the night.
Two nearly identical heads bent and two sets of lips pressed a kiss to pink cheeks. "Good-night Estel."
End Chapter 1/6