NOTE: Estel is 12 years of age and has had on ongoing friendship/mentorship with Legolas since he was four years old (as told in Never, In All My Days…)
All proverbs cited are in italics and are taken from many cultures world wide.
Instruction In Youth
'Instruction In Youth Is Like Engraving In Stone'
Year 2943, Third Age
"Estel! Estel, it is time to get up! The sun has already showed itself above the horizon. Are you planning to sleep your life away, young one?" Legolas's voice did not manage to even stir the young human who lay fast asleep in his bed.
Outside the birds were singing and movement could be heard about the Last Homely House as the household went about their morning routines. Estel also continued his own early morning routine—sleeping as late as he was allowed. And although the boy had been excited for Legolas to visit, the elf had not been able to influence the boy's habit of sleeping late.
Legolas frowned at the sleeping youth. Elrond had asked him to help with Estel's instruction while he was in Imladris, as the boy looked up to the Prince from Mirkwood. Legolas had agreed as he enjoyed the boy's company. However, there was not much he could teach if the boy would not rouse himself from slumber!
A mischievous emotion filled him, and he smiled an evil smile as he approached the bed.
Estel found himself lying face down on the floor, his mattress having been tipped to dump him out of it. He rolled over and blinked sleepily up into a bright elven gaze.
"Legolas? What did you do that for?" Estel mumbled as he yawned and stretched, frowning in annoyance at being awakened so abruptly. Reaching up, he grabbed his blanket and pulled it over himself again, curling up on the floor and closing his eyes. He had no desire to stir just yet.
"If you would rather have a bucket of cool water dumped over your head, I will be happy fetch one." Legolas's cheerful voice grated on Estel's ears. He pulled the blanket over his head. It was jerked away. "Come, Estel, 'The seeds of the day are best planted in the first hour'."
Estel blinked and looked at the elf suspiciously. "What?" Since when had Legolas begun to sound like Erestor? "Legolas, what are you talking about, and why are you dragging me out of bed so early?"
Legolas smiled at his young friend and shook his head. "It is not 'so early'. The sun has been up for over an hour. It is going to be a fine day!" He moved to the window and threw back the drapes, allowing the sun to shine down on Estel where he lay on the floor.
Estel winced, and turned his face away from the light.
"As for what I said, I was quoting one of the old proverbs. Not all learning is of swords, bows, horses, tracking and hunting, young one! There is much wisdom to be learned from the old sayings, and I fear you have yet to learn them."
Estel groaned. "Adar put you up to this, didn't he?"
Legolas grinned at him. "As you have failed to listen to Erestor, I have taken the task upon myself."
"Erestor's lectures are boring," Estel grumbled.
That was not quite true. Erestor could be entertaining when discussing a topic he found interesting, such as the history of Gondolin. But Erestor did not like proverbs, detested them, in fact, and so it had become something of a chore for his tutor to teach him, as well as for Estel to learn them.
"Ah, that is because some things should be learned through life lessons, not lectures! Experience is the best teacher, after all!"
"Please tell me we are not going to go watch plants grow in the garden," Estel pleaded, horror filling him at what a wood-elf would consider 'life lessons'.
Legolas laughed. "No, but there is much to learn, and you will not learn it on the floor!" The elf threw Estel's clothing at him. "Get yourself washed and dressed." He frowned at the mess of the bed. "And make your bed. I will meet you in the dining hall where we will break our fast."
"But Legolas," Estel whined as he rose and dragged on his leggings. "Why do I need to learn all those old sayings? They are just a bunch of pious sounding words!"
Legolas snorted and shook his head, " 'All old sayings have something in them' , Estel. Much of the wisdom of the elves can be found in them. You must only learn to apply them in daily life. 'The eye never forgets what the heart has seen'. You only need to learn to see with your heart, then you will understand them." With that, Legolas left, leaving a baffled and annoyed Estel in his room to do as his friend had asked.
Estel stood staring at the closed door, wanting to throw his tunic at it and crawl back into bed. But Legolas would be back and the consequences would not be pleasant. Besides, his stomach was beginning to grumble, too.
He pulled his tunic over his head, and began to straighten his bedding. Learning the old sayings was not what he had planned while Legolas was here! He would have to think of some way to get Legolas's mind off these silly old proverbs and have some fun instead.
But first, they would eat.
- o -
After breakfast, to Estel's horror, Legolas indeed led him to the gardens. Estel, still grumpy from missing a couple hours of sleep, glared at his friend. Legolas had said they were not going to spend time in the gardens. Or had he? Estel tried to remember what exactly he had asked. Something about watching plants grow?
He sighed and glanced at his friend, who was looking appreciatively at the varied plants growing beside the path. Estel decided to try something that sometimes worked with Erestor: distraction and misdirection.
He looked up at a bird singing on a branch not far away, and smiled.
"Legolas, why do the birds always have so much to say? Do they know so much they think they need to tell everyone?" Estel looked hopefully at Legolas and waited for him to admit he did not know.
"Many of Ilúvatar's creatures are so full of joy at simply being alive, they must express it. 'A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song,' Estel."
Legolas glanced at the young man out of the corner of his eye, a slight smirk quirking his lips at Estel's frown. Legolas had been a master of that trick himself when he was under a tutor. Estel would have to find some other way to distract him, but Legolas would use those attempts as well. It was a teaching technique his last tutor had used: the one tutor he had not managed to drive away. The one Legolas still admired and went to for advice on occasion.
"Come, let us grab our weapons. We will practice for a while. Then we will check on the horses. Perhaps pack a lunch and take a ride. Will that cheer you up some?" At Estel's wide smile, Legolas took off for the house at a run, the young man not far behind.
- o -
The sounds of metal against metal filled the training grounds, drawing the attention of several others, who gathered around to watch Legolas spar with Estel. The boy was a natural with a sword, though he still had much to learn in the use of his preferred weapon.
The dull practice blades glinted in the morning light as Estel saw an opening and took it. But Legolas had been expecting it and blocked the blow, using the momentum to spin around and turn it into an attack of his own. Estel was caught off guard and incapable of blocking the descending blade.
Legolas, seeing Estel would not block, pulled his blow, but was unable to stop the momentum completely. A strike that would have broken bone was reduced to a bruising blow on Estel's sword arm.
"OW! Legolas! I told you I need chainmail when we spar like this!" He clasped his arm in pain. "That is the second strike you've landed today!" Estel complained.
Legolas removed the boy's hand and checked over his arm, relieved to see it was only bruised and not seriously injured. Then he quirked one side of his mouth up into a smirk and said, "The best armor is to keep out of range." He paused and let the proverb sink into the boy's head before continuing. "You must learn to move faster or you will never block such moves. Still, you are much improved from my last visit. You must have been practicing. It is paying off!" Legolas grinned at Estel's now beaming face. "We will stop for now. Let us go have a meal wrapped up for us and get the horses."
- o -
They raced to the barn from the kitchens, laughing, but drawing up by a circular enclosure to catch their breath and to watch the lesson taking place inside the fence.
The elfling astride a large pony was doing well, trotting around the circle, but then seemed to lose her balance and fall to the ground. She rolled away from the pony and got to her feet, looking expectantly at the instructor.
"Very good, Alassëa!" Urúvion praised.
Estel gaped at the elf's words and looked at Legolas in disbelief. "Why would he praise her for falling off?"
Legolas smiled. "She was practicing falling."
Estel's eyes widened, remembering that painful lesson.
'It is not enough to know how to ride - you must also know how to fall'.
"Yes, I know," Estel grumbled, then piped in a mimic of Elladan's voice, "One can avoid many serious injuries by learning how to fall properly." He rolled his eyes. "One could avoid even more by learning to stay on the horse!"
"That is true, but you are missing the point of the proverb. It applies to more than just riding, young one."
When Estel stared at him in confusion, Legolas let it go. The boy already knew many of the verses, he just did not yet understand how to apply them to his life. He would learn in time. Life had a way of teaching that no instructor could ever manage.
They entered the barn and prepared their horses for a ride through the valley. Estel hoping for adventure, while Legolas hoped for more chances to instill some piece of wisdom into the stubborn boy's head.
- o -
It was a beautiful day for riding through the woods, Legolas thought. The sun was shining down through the trees, turning the leaves into a dappled pattern on the ground and casting shadows behind them.
He turned to the boy riding beside him. "There will be many times in your life, Estel, when trouble and hard times come. Pay attention!"
The boy, who had been watching a rabbit beside the path, turned to look at him. "I was listening!"
"This is important, Estel." The boy inclined his head, and Legolas continued. "When those hard times come, remember this old saying, 'Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you'."
Estel blinked and frowned. "Legolas, what do the sun and shadows have to do with life's difficulties? That makes no sense!"
"It makes much sense, if you would but try to understand and see things not so literally. Turn around, Estel. Look behind you."
Estel did so, continuing to frown.
"See the shadows?" Legolas continued.
The boy nodded. "Yes, but they are just shadows…"
"Even the Shadow upon Mirkwood?"
Estel's frown cleared as understanding came. "You mean the bad times are like shadows?"
"Yes, and just like shadows, if you focus on them, they become all you see. Now turn back around and look up."
Estel turned, and he smiled as the sun kissed his cheeks.
"The sun is the light, a reminder of the good times, the joyful things in life. If you focus on those things, the darkness disappears from your sight, though it does not go away."
Legolas spoke with conviction, knowing this lesson all too well. It had saved him from succumbing to the darkness that pervaded the wood. For though they had peace now, sine the battle at Erebor, he sensed it was only a temporary reprieve.
"You cannot stop difficulty or sadness, but you can decide what you choose to focus on. The choice is yours. Remember the sun, Estel, and turn towards it when times are hard."
Comprehension dawned and Estel turned awed eyes upon his friend. Often he had wondered how Legolas remained so bright and cheerful, always a ray of sunshine even though his homeland had been swallowed in darkness. Why, not two years ago, the elf and his people had fought a big battle and many elves had died!
Now Estel understood how Legolas could remain joyful despite such tragedy. He would never look at sunshine and shadows the same again. This was a good lesson! Estel smiled at his friend and nodded. "I understand," he told Legolas.
- o -
They ate a peaceful meal in a quiet meadow, allowing their horses to graze while they ate. After, they packed up and headed towards a secret spot Legolas wanted to share with Estel on the river. The distance was far, and Estel soon lost interest in the passing scenery and began to repeatedly ask, "How much further, Legolas?"
"You have asked that four times in the last twenty minutes!" Legolas told him in irritation. "It has begun to annoy me, young one. 'The more you ask how long will it take, the longer the journey will seem'." He paused, then turned to the boy, "Perhaps you are not ready to see this place I wished to show you. Shall we turn back?"
"No! No, Legolas! I am sorry! I will not complain any longer, It is just, we can only walk over this rocky ground, not trot or canter. I am only bored. I will not ask again! I promise!" Estel's face took on a pleading look.
Legolas's eyes narrowed, "'A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain' and 'Clouds that thunder, do not always rain'. Do not make promises you will not keep, Estel."
They reached a smoother section of the trail, and Legolas urged his horse to pick up the pace to a trot. After several minutes, he glanced to the boy, and bit back a grin as he noticed Estel pressing his lips together to keep from asking the dreaded question again.
- o -
They arrived mid afternoon at a place where the river ran deep under the boughs of old willow trees, which draped the water with their trailing fingers. Estel had never been to this part of the river, and his mouth parted as he took in the beauty of the sun filtering through the canopy and dappling on the running water, which seemed to call to him.
Before Legolas could utter a word, Estel jumped from his horse and ran towards the bank, stripping as he went.
Legolas opened his mouth to warn Estel that the river was deeper here than it looked, but he shut it before speaking and watched with an amused expression on his face. He would let the water teach another lesson when the boy found the river bed dropped sharply away with no notice. The boy was a strong swimmer, so he would only endure a dunking.
Estel reached the water and without hesitation, strode right into its inviting coolness. And just as Legolas had expected, he reached the drop off and slipped out of sight beneath the water's surface. Legolas began to laugh, as Estel's head surfaced, but his laugh died as unseen currents pulled the boy back down. Estel resurfaced further out, spluttering and fighting to stay afloat, but the current dragged him downstream, to where the river became rocky and full of rapids.
Legolas's amusement turned to horror as he realized the river's currents were much stronger at this time of year than when he usually came. The undercurrents must have increased with the heavy rainfall a few days ago! Kicking his horse into action, Legolas sped after bobbing form of Estel.
He managed to get ahead of the boy, floundering in the river's currents, and leapt from his horse and waded waist deep into the shallow part of the river, making a wild grab for the boy as he fought to remain upright in the quick current.
Estel, caught in the force of the water, had been unable to get to his feet when the water grew shallow and rocky and was being swept along without mercy. He reached out to Legolas, but only succeeded in a light hold on Legolas's hand. The boy's momentum swung him into the elf's legs, knocking both into the raging water.
The water tore the friends apart, bashing their bodies against submerged rocks and logs. Legolas could no longer see Estel, as he fought the swirling water. A sharp pain shot through his side as he smashed against a large boulder. Legolas bit back the cry of pain that would surely have had him swallowing river water.
When Legolas felt for sure they would both drown, the river opened back up into a wide channel, the currents dying into calmer pool. Sputtering and ignoring the pain in his body, Legolas swam towards shore, and climbed to his feet, looking around frantically for Estel. His eyes came to rest on the body lying face down on the bank.
Legolas stumbled over to the boy and turned him over carefully.
Estel's eyes blinked as he focused up at him.
"Estel? Estel, where are you hurt?" Legolas asked.
Estel sat up with a groan, coughing up most of the river water he had inhaled on the perilous trip downstream. "I am not hurt, just bruised…I think." His voice was strained, and he winced as Legolas checked him for broken bones but found nothing but scrapes and bruises and a swollen wrist.
"Am I going to get in trouble for being an idiot?" Estel asked, still sputtering.
Legolas released a surprised laugh, but then grimaced as pain shot through him. He pressed a hand to his side as he gazed down at the shivering, naked boy next to him. "Nay, young one. I believe I will settle for another lesson learned. I believe you have just found the truth in the old saying, 'Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet!'"
Estel looked at him for a moment, an affronted look on his face, before turning his gaze on the river which had so betrayed him by luring him in with its peaceful front, Then his eyes dropped to his naked form and he closed his eyes and shook his head.
"Very well, I am an idiot and a fool!"
Legolas smiled, shaking his head at that declaration. He sighed in relief, wincing again as the breath leaving his lungs caused his side to ache fiercely. They had been lucky.
"I am not seriously hurt, Legolas, but you are in pain. Where are you injured?"
Legolas removed his hand from what he suspected were cracked ribs, and said, "It is nothing, Estel. I am fine."
"And I am an orc!" The boy exclaimed, getting to his feet and insisting Legolas remove his tunic to see where he was hurt, despite Legolas's protests. It did not take more than a minute for Estel to find the large, mottled bruising over his ribs.
"It is a good thing, Adar has taught me how to treat this," the boy stated, becoming a young man before Legolas's eyes, with an air of authority Legolas had not seen before. "Call your horse, Legolas. I will need the healer's kit and something to wrap these ribs. They are cracked, I believe."
Legolas stared at Estel a moment in disbelief, but whistled for his horse. Suffering in silence as Estel wrapped his torso with a long strip of bandage, Legolas wondered how such a simple day had turned to disaster. They would now have to sneak into the Last Homely House if they wished to shirk a thorough exam and lecture from Lord Elrond.
Estel finished wrapping Legolas's ribs, and they both mounted Legolas's horse with care and rode back to where Estel's clothing lay strewn on the ground, his horse contentedly grazing nearby.
- o -
For more than half the trip back to Imladris, Legolas distracted himself from the pain in his side but quoting more proverbs, drawing from remembered lessons of his own.
Estel, his face a sour mask, parroted them back dutifully.
"'Pray that you will never have to bear all that you are able to endure'."
"'If is better to stand there and look stupid, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt'."
"'Caution is not cowardice, even the ants march armed'."
"'Words are like spears: Once they leave your lips they can never come back'."
"'A stupid act entails doing the work twice over'."
"'He who would enjoy the fruit must not spoil the blossoms'."
Satisfied Estel had learned something, Legolas began to sing. They would at least enjoy the final half of their ride despite their sore aching bodies.
- o -
Both riders turned thankful eyes upon stable as they rode up. The ride back had not been as enjoyable as Legolas would have liked. They had been chased by an angry mother bear with cubs, assaulted by squirrels hurtling nuts, and finally, been drenched again in a late afternoon thundershower. They were still wet, sore, and weary beyond words. But somehow, they managed to tend their horses and enter the Last Homely House without seeing another soul.
Sneaking through the halls, they made their way to Estel's room, where they planned to tend to each others hurts before making themselves presentable for dinner. But upon reaching the room, Estel lay down on his bed and Legolas simply sprawled on the rug.
"After all we have been through today, what piece of 'elvish wisdom' do you have now, Legolas?" Estel asked, then groaned as he moved his wrist.
Legolas, for the first time that day, felt puzzled. How to sum up the day they had had with a final proverb, something profound? He pondered a moment, then grinned.
" 'Wait until it is night before saying it has been a fine day'?"
- o -
Lord Elrond walked down the hall towards his youngest son's rooms. He had not seen Estel or Legolas all day, and was curious as to how the lessons were proceeding. The sound of laughter led him towards Estel's door, where he paused, then pushed the door open just a crack, to see what the two were doing. Surely they were sharing some joke, judging by the laughter.
Instead, his eyes widened at seeing two very dirty, bedraggled and apparently injured forms holding their sides as one lay on the bed, the other on the floor. Shaking his head, he announced his presence by clearing his throat.
Bright grey and blue-grey eyes turned sharply to the now open doorway, and two faces grimaced at being caught in such a state. Elrond simply pointed down the hall and said, "Healing rooms. Now. Both of you."
Dragging their feet and grumbling as they walked, the dark haired and blond headed figures moved painfully down the hall.
"I believe you two should spend some time in the library, studying the proverbs as I suggested. You both obviously have failed to grasp such wisdom! It is time you both learn that 'He that seeks trouble never misses'."
Legolas and Estel turned a look of disbelief at each other, before continuing on towards the healing rooms, clearly oblivious to anything else Elrond said.
Elrond smiled and shook his head, foreseeing a great friendship that would overcome all obstacles in the years to come, indeed, a friendship that would change the world. As he followed the troublesome pair, arms around the other as they hobbled down the hall, he spoke once more in only a whisper.
"'Adversity is the touchstone of friendship.'"
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