Author's Notes: I fell in love with the idea of a young Estel story while writing some of the early chapters of my newest multi-chapter tale; and Pentangle's stories sparked it even further. This could be considered part of my running series though it takes place before that general timeline. You don't have to read any of my previous stories to enjoy this.
Also known as: Honey Cakes are the Cure-All for Head Bumps
Scrik Scrik. Scrik. Paralyzed with terror, the small child sat huddled in his bed, squashed against the headboard. The maple tree tapped its long, ghastly fingers against the window again. To the frightened human child, they looked like the claws of gaping monsters. Like the ones that invaded his dreams. It was only a little more than five months since he and his mother had come to Rivendell.
Death was still a difficult concept for the three-year old to grasp and to prevent the inevitable questions about where Adar was, the adults in Rivendell had grown adept at distracting the child. But now, it was bedtime. The house was asleep. There were no distractions, no succor from nightmares he didn't understand and didn't want to. Normally, he would have called out for his mother—she was always near but she was cranky and sad when he woke her up to tell her what he had dreamt. It would just upset her again.
But he couldn't stay here all by himself either. Scooting to the mattress' very brink, he slipped off backwards, dragging the covers with him. They landed with a flump in a tangled heap. He fought free of the covers wrapped around his legs, pattered to the door and turned the golden handle, edging out into the hall.
They had celebrated his third birthday not too long ago and while Elrond had been perfectly kind in every way and he'd gotten a lot of good presents, he still felt uneasy here. The place was still big and unfamiliar to him. He hadn't learned all the new hallways yet. Keeping one hand on the wall, he walked unsteadily in the darkness until he came to the sweeping staircase that led down to the front hall.
A little moonlight streamed through the long, mullioned windows. It illuminated wide, grey-green eyes for a flash. Estel wasn't sure where he was going and every minute or so he stopped, listened and considered going back to his room. But he didn't remember which way it was so he kept going, hoping to spot something familiar. Thinking he recognized the door leading off the dining hall, he trotted down a short staircase of only five or six steps and found himself in a low underground room.
This wasn't his room. It was the kitchens. But they were all dark. Where were all the good smells from dinner? The roasting meat? The yeasty comfort of baked bread? He smelled something though and it smelled delicious so he followed it towards a ruddy glow in the far corner of the room. His pace slowed uncertainly as he drew nearer. Pans hung from the ceiling like dead geese and a glittering array of unsightly tools shone in the fire's red light.
Something moved. Estel shrank back against a table leg.
Silhouetted in front of the fire, was a tall, threatening shape wielding a hook at the end of one arm. It prodded the fire, red sparks blazing up the chimney. Estel let out an unconscious whimper. Attracted by the sound, the figure turned and looked right at him. Its eyes flamed red.
Estel threw himself wildly backwards and the top of his head collided painfully with the corner of the table. Dishes clattered and several pans rolled onto the floor with an alarming clang. Estel, sat amongst the wreckage, began to cry, softly then louder when the pain in his head intensified sharply.
Strong arms caught him up almost instantaneously and gentle fingers caressed the red-hot spot on the back of his skull. Estel no longer knew or cared who held him but was eased by the warm smell of someone familiar and not a monster. He buried his red face into the crook of a long nightshirt.
"Shh, shh, shh," the calming voice thrummed under his ear and little by little his cries softened into sniffles then silence. It was then he noticed the pace stick lying on the floor and the long, dark tresses spilling into his eyes. He moved them a few inches out of his eyes and leaned away so he could see his comforter's face. "Sadron?"
Elrond's chief household servant smiled a little crookedly as the boy rubbed the blurring wetness out of his eyes.. "You have quite a knot on the back of your head, tithen. What are you doing up at this hour?"
Juggling the boy in one arm, he bent and picked up the stick lying at his feet. Estel swayed slightly with the elf's uneven gait as they limped over to the stairs and sat down in a pool of moonlight streaming through the dining hall's long windows.
"There now," Sadron said when they were settled. "Bad dream?" he guessed.
Estel nodded, still too troubled by the memory to talk about it much but Sadron didn't ask him any more questions. He had not known Sadron very long and the servant was often chasing him from one area or another for causing a mess. But he didn't tonight. On the contrary he shifted the boy until he sat on his own step and got back to his feet.
"Well, I know what'll make you feel better. A first rate cure-all for nasty bumps on the head." He picked up the fallen pans. Thankfully nothing had broken. "Though you can't tell your father."
"We're not 'upposed to keep secrets from Adar," Estel reminded him. Lord Elrond had been "Adar" for awhile now and Estel was beginning to forget his father's face.
"That's true. But I don't think he'll mind this one."
With the hooked metal tool that had frightened Estel earlier, he tugged the griddle hanging over the fire within reach and with a hot pad to protect his fingers, scooped out a circular pan of honey cakes—the sugary variety. Little masterpieces, they were smothered with meadowcream and sprinkled liberally with sugar violets. His proud and rather popular specialty, he had been making a last batch of them so they would have enough for Elrond's silver jubilee the following morning.
He set one on a small platter as Estel scurried eagerly over. "Careful with the plate now. They should still be plenty warm."
"Mmmf…'s good," Estel praised, beaming.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," the servant chided, secretly pleased. After all, what better praise could one receive than that from a notoriously picky child? His expression sobered slightly as his fingertips wandered somewhat unconsciously to his leg and rubbed.
"I suppose it's just as well you like them, seeing as I am not much use elsewhere," the elf muttered, then, realizing Estel watched him with rapt attention, amended hastily, "Well, but I'd rather be here anyway. Surrounded by sweets all day, it's a paradise."
Estel giggled and nodded vigorous agreement. It certainly was his idea of a paradise. As he swallowed the last bite, he wiped his mouth on his nightshirt (Sadron flinched at the frosting smear). "What's wrong with your leg?" the child asked switching from one subject to another with all the artless candor of those his age.
The unexpected question completely threw Sadron. Most people, those who did not already know what had happened anyway, did the polite thing and didn't mention it though he saw the sideglances at his stick, the undoubtedly shaking heads expressing pity and sympathy. A blunt question would almost have been better appreciated so he found himself telling Estel, actually curious on finding out what the child would think of the matter.
"I was out hunting with a group of friends and…we had just caught sight of the sought-after stag and raced after it. Well, I was riding too fast and the ground was uneven and stony. My horse threw a shoe and then me. The fall broke my leg."
Estel's young face crumbled. He had never broken his leg but it sounded serious. "Did it hurt?"
"Did you go to Adar?"
"Yes but unfortunately there was a delay. I couldn't ride back and we'd gone pretty far beyond the valley. By the time we returned there was little he could do."
"Adar can fix anything!" Estel said confidently who had never suffered any hurt worse than a sprained ankle two months ago from going too fast down the stairs. His knobby little boy's knee came up suddenly, almost striking the servant in the nose. "See this? I fell down on the gravel in the garden. There was all this blood gushing out and Adar had to pick out little stones. But he cleaned it up. Whenever I get hurts, he kisses them and makes them better. He could do that for you too maybe."
At that thought, Sadron could no longer repress his smile at his bubbly charge.
After the cake and a small bowl of milk, Estel was getting sleepy again. He didn't protest when Sadron proposed it was time to go back to bed. "Carry me?" he requested, holding out his arms.
Sadron grimaced. He had rather hoped the little boy wouldn't ask this of him. A few feet from the fireplace to the stairs was no great feat but… "I'm afraid you'll have to walk up the stairs, my boy. I can't carry you at the same time," he gestured a little hopelessly with his stick.
Surprisingly, Estel seemed to understand. He smiled happily and slipped his sticky hand through the elf's long fingers. "All right. I'll climb."
The walk back to the kitchens seemed unusually longer than the way there and Estel wondered if Sadron was taking him the long way around. His legs felt heavy and he stumbled often, bumping accidentally against his taller companion's hip. He rubbed his eyes hard and tried to keep his feet but he tripped and nearly went sprawling but for Sadron's fierce grip on his hand.
The head servant sighed, quietly capitulated and picked him up, making sure Estel held tight to his neck. The boy's voice was a little muffled against the elf's shoulder as he said. "Y' not a fusty cu'mudjin."
After a few seconds translating, Sadron glanced down at him with a slight frown. "Who told you I was a fussy curmudgeon?"
"El'dan and El'hir."
"Oh, they did, did they? Well, I have more than half a mind to take those two over my knee if they weren't as tall as your father now. I remember, they were little more than your age, Estel. Right little terrors—worse than you. They used to mash those honey cakes into the rugs. Took ages to clean up."
He had to save his breath at this point. They'd come to the grand staircase in the front hall. Sadron glanced at it uneasily. He hadn't climbed the stairs since the accident, choosing rather more easily accessible rooms on the first floor. Elrond had not objected.
But Estel deserved to sleep in his own bed not a couch because he couldn't climb.
With a determined inhale, Sadron tucked his stick under one arm and shifted Estel's weight to his other arm. Grasping the banister tightly, he pulled himself up step by step. It was difficult with the weight of the child and the awkward angle of his leg pulling him off balance.
He was sweating and out of breath when he reached the top but he was pleased with himself. He set his pace stick on the floor again and braced his back against the railing to rest a moment, thinking how such a small child could weigh so much. The little one was dead weight in his arms. He couldn't remember Elladan and Elrohir ever being so heavy granted though that was before...
"Perhaps next time…I'll give you a ride in the dumbwaiter shall I, Estel?"
Estel didn't reply. He'd fallen fast asleep.
Sadron resumed a slow pace so as not to jar the young human too much. They were in the upper bedrooms now and the young one's room was only a few steps from the landing if he recalled rightly.
"Sadron, I thought I already told you to go to bed," At the sound of the familiar thump of the pace stick on the wooden floor, Elrond poked his head out of his bedchamber. His nightclothes and long auburn tresses were rumbled with sleep. "There's no need to wear your fingers to the bone fussing over—Is that Estel?"
The servant had halted at his lord's voice and hiked the drowsing child up a little more on his shoulder. "He had a nightmare. I found him in the kitchens. Little rascal. He nearly turned the place upside down," he pretended to grump, making sure Estel was asleep on his shoulder.
Elrond knew his longtime servant and soft-hearted friend too well to be fooled. He raised an eyebrow. "He has something on his nightshirt. Meadowcream?"
"At least he knows exactly where to wander, my lord. Unlike your eldest sons who as I recall favored the bell tower in the middle of the night," the other humphed with great dignity. Carefully he transferred him to Lord Elrond's arms.
Estel shifted his head sleepily in the crook of the elf-lord's neck, raised his head a little and said very seriously, "You should kiss Sadron and make his leg better, Ada."
Elrond blinked, bemused.
Sadron was trying hard to quash his sad smile as he raised an eyebrow at his lord.
With perfect seriousness, Elrond glanced down at Estel whose shining eyes were fixed pleadingly on him. As though preparing for a battle, the elf-lord squared his shoulders, straightened his spine, took one pace forward and kissed his head servant's forehead dutifully. Estel wriggled, giggling happily.
Thoroughly flabbergasted, Sadron blinked twice then decided his best course of action would be to ignore his lord's outlandish behavior for the present. "I feel better already, my lord."
Elrond's lips upturned though a spark in his eyes still bespoke the sorrow he felt for not being able to restore his friend to full mobility. Sadron knew that and did not blame him for it but it was hard for one accustomed to getting around so well to have to depend on the support of others. Though the accident had happened long ago, sometimes frustration at the limitations interposed on him still rankled. It lessened though after what had happened tonight. He had succeeded in carrying Estel up the staircase.
What a blessing this little one was! Aloud, he said, "The little imp. He's corrupted you, my lord."
"And I am glad of it," Serious once more, Elrond caught his servant's eye over the top of his foster-son's head. "Thank you. It's been awhile since you've climbed those second-storey stairs."
"Yes, well, I've told you for years you need to make a dumbwaiter large enough to accommodate me," the servant said with a rare flash of humor.
Elrond chuckled, picturing the tall, austere servant folding himself with utmost solemnity into an adult-sized dumbwaiter. "I hope there's enough of those honey cakes left come daybreak."
"If I can manage to keep your other sons away, my lord, there should be," Sadron replied over his shoulder as he proceeded back towards his rooms.
"Come, Estel, it is time for sleep," Elrond said, looking down into the sleepy, crumb-spattered face.
Estel rubbed his eyes and nodded. " 'Night, Sadron!"
The servant paused at the head of the stairs. "Sweeter dreams, Estel."
Smiling tenderly, Elrond twitched a blanket over an uncovered toe and rested his large hand for a moment on the back of the child's head. "Good night, Estel, ion nin." The words felt strange but comfortable on his lips as he shut the door softly behind him. He was certainly changing this house—for the better.
Estel slept soundly the rest of the night, hardly aware of the wind or scraping branches. For now the shrouded past was behind and the dim future stretched uncertainly ahead but at least there was the promise of honey cakes come morning.