Word count: 1736
Summary: two faces of the same coin.
The Lord of Imladris drew the suture through the torn flesh, giving it a rather sharp tug as he tied the knot. "What on Arda made you pull it out before you came to the healing rooms?"
His patient showed no sign of his rough treatment, sitting stoically at the foot of the bed, his hands braced on his knees. "Do not fuss, Elrond. It was obvious it only hit muscle. I was not going to walk the halls with an arrow shaft bobbing behind me."
Finishing the neat line of stitches, Elrond then took a square of moist linen and smoothed it over the shoulder, arm, and back of his most senior advisor, cleaning away the last traces of blood. "Are you going to tell me who did this? Tell me which of our young stalwarts saw fit to wound my right hand?"
The sleek, black hair that hung to Erestor's waist had been carefully pulled to the side of his neck, and pale fingers fiddled absently with the long tail. "I did not actually see him. As I have said far too many times already, I was taking a walk along the river and was shot—quite poorly, the Valar be thanked—and my assailant ran off."
Elrond frowned as he thought over his friend's words. There was something he was missing. He shook his head and sighed. "Get dressed and I will have a light supper sent to your room. I want you to drink half of this cordial when you have finished your meal, and then to bed with you. Yes, yes, I know the wound is not serious, but humor me and get a full night's reverie before you return to your duties."
Erestor simply nodded and rose, reaching for his robe and pulling it gingerly around him. As he put a hand on the door, Elrond could not resist one last comment. "You seem so calm, Erestor. Why are you not more upset at being shot in your own home?"
Erestor started to shrug, winced, and replied simply, "We have over seventy warriors in training, a goodly number barely past their majority. Someone was merely taking target practice and had not the good sense to check that there was no one in the vicinity. I bid you good 'even, Elrond."
Two hours later, Erestor sat ensconced in his favorite chair with the indulgence of a rug tucked around his legs. He perused a small book, and picked listlessly at a plate of cheese and fruit placed on the table beside him. His shoulder throbbed and he was uncharacteristically dispirited. He did not appear to notice when the door to his study opened a crack and then stopped. After several long minutes, the crack widened. Since the door creaked a little, it was unlikely the advisor was still unaware he was about to have a guest, but his gaze remained fixed on his book. Finally a small figure sidled into the room. Erestor tuned a page. The interloper moved slowly along the endless bookshelves, keeping his back tight against the wall like a sneak thief. A soft, breathy voice called, "Erestor?"
No answer. The figure took a deep breath and moved across the room until he stood before the councilor. Erestor licked a fingertip and turned another page. A pleading whisper: "Erestor?"
Slowly the dark eyes of the elf rose, viewing the human boy who stood before him. The eyes that met his were filled with sorrow and fear, and the small hand that reached tentatively for his sleeve trembled. "Are – are you all right?"
"I am in a fair amount of pain, Estel."
The hand on the black sleeve jerked convulsively, and a sob was heard. "I am so sorry, Erestor. So very, very sorry! I would never hurt you!"
"Yet you did. Not four hours ago, in fact."
The youngest son of the house, and the personal thorn in Erestor's side—quite literally, it now appeared—stood in anguished silence, having no idea how to proceed. He had accidentally hurt his dear friend and feared that he would never be forgiven. Erestor turned back to his book, his back stiff and unyielding, his manner even more so. No forgiveness then. Best to look to other matters, if his friend was lost to him. "Ada said nothing at dinner. Did you tell him?"
"Tell him what, Estel?"
"What I – what I did."
"And what would that be?"
"I was playing and I accidentally – accidentally! Sort of by accident shot you with an arrow."
The advisor did not look up and turned yet another page. "You might want to rephrase that."
Estel knotted his brow. Sometimes Erestor was very frustrating to talk to. He had been playing and it was an accident. He had confessed and apologized; what else was required? Since he was being utterly ignored, he sighed and sat down cross-legged on the floor. He had spent a fair amount of the last few hours crying, and now his head ached and his nose was stuffy. He pinched the bridge of his nose in unconscious imitation of a favorite mannerism of the elf seated before him, and thought some more. After a seeming eternity of pondering, the boy clambered to his feet and again touched Erestor's sleeve. "I took something I was not supposed to touch without my brothers or Glorfindel helping me."
"And I went somewhere I was not to go."
"And I did something that everyone knows you should not do—even babies know you should be careful there is no one around if you are going to shoot a bow and arrow."
"And because I took what I was not to take, and went where I was not to go, and did was I was forbidden to do, you were hurt and I would not have you hurt for anything."
"That seems a more accurate description of events." Erestor's eyes dropped back to his book.
Estel's lip was trembling, but Erestor took no notice. Finally, in desperation, the boy demanded, "What will my punishment be?"
Two more pages turned before Erestor said, "I am not going to punish you, Estel."
Estel stared in disbelief. "Not? You're not going to punish me?"
Estel felt a great weight lift from his shoulders, only to have it return moments later. "But you're going to tell Ada, aren't you? And then he will punish me."
Erestor's eyes met Estel's and the somber gaze made Estel's stomach do a funny flip. "I am not going to tell your father, Estel."
The boy could not believe his good fortune. A smile composed of equal parts relief and gratitude flashed up at Erestor. He cried, "Oh thank you, Erestor! Thank you!" He held out his arms, expecting to be received into a hug of forgiveness, but Erestor simply looked at him.
"It is not my responsibility to tell your father."
"Oh. No? Well, that's good then. I mean, you will be better soon and I promise to never do that again,
so - "
"Nonetheless, he needs to know of this, Estel."
"But why? Many times you have punished me yourself and never told Ada what I did!"
"That was when the offense was minor, Estel. Your father did not need to know that you broke my quill, or that you tore a rare book. We could resolve the matter between us two alone. In this case, one of your father's subjects wounded another. It is for him to determine what course of action should be taken."
When put in such stark—and adult—terms, Estel began to see his crime in a new light. "But you are not going to tell him?"
"No." Erestor returned his gaze to the book for which Estel was developing a strong antipathy.
The boy stood trembling with uncertainty, and an impending sense of doom. A horrible thought hovered just outside his grasp, and he was none too sure he wanted to pursue it. "Then...then how will he know?"
Erestor once more raised his head and simply looked at his young protégé. The horrible thought became clear under the calm waiting gaze. Estel held out for an interminable minute, hoping for deliverance from some unknown agency, then took a deep breath. "I - " His voice cracked."- I have to tell him."
Erestor simply nodded, but an acute observer would detect a slight warming in the dark eyes.
Estel's demeanor now resembled that of one about to ascend the gallows. "Will you go with me?"
Erestor actually hesitated, searching the tragic face before him, then he firmed his resolve. "This you must do alone, Estel."
The boy turned slowly and made his way to the door at a snail's pace. He placed his hand on the door handle, waiting a few moments for a last minute reprieve that never came. He glanced back at Erestor who nodded encouragingly. The thin shoulders squared, the back stiffened, and the chin rose. The door opened and Estel passed through into the dim hallway.
Erestor slid a silk bookmark into his book. Curiously, he turned back several pages before he set the ribbon into place. Then he rose, carefully straightened his robes, and strode for the doorway. Once in the hall, he moved to the shadows and flowed along the quiet passageway as if he were a shadow himself. At length he came to an intersection where he paused and peered around the corner. He watched as Estel raised his hand to knock at an ornately carved door, but quickly dropped it to his side. The boy turned away and Erestor held his breath. Then Estel turned back to the door, again raised his hand and knocked loudly. A muffled voice bid him enter and Estel walked through, but in his nervousness he forgot to close the door behind him. Erestor flitted into a new position, back pressed tightly against the wall. He was just in time to hear, "Ada, I have something to tell you."
The Advisor waited no longer, but strode down the hall with nearly his normal speed and flare, only a slight frown crossing his features when a too-bold step jarred his shoulder. He headed for the kitchen, as he suddenly found himself with quite an appetite. As he walked his eyes shown with fierce pride and, dare one say it, love.