Written for the Teitho Challenge, July 2009: Competitions
May the Best Elf Win
With Roi and Dan around, it was never boring in Larris – more commonly known as Imladris by the grownups – but Las's arrival promised even greater adventures, in which Estel determined to take part.
The perfect opportunity arose one cloudy day. Estel was playing in Ada's office when he happened to glance out the window. In the courtyard outside, Roi, Dan, and Las were huddled in hushed conversation. That looked promising. Estel shimmied down from the window seat, where he'd been wheeling his toy dragon back and forth with whooshing sounds. He crossed the room in a hurry, but hesitated next to the door. Ada had said he would be back soon, and to not go anywhere alone.
Estel pondered this setback for a while, then the answer popped up. Silly him! He wasn't going alone. He was going to Roi and Dan and Las, which was as good as going with Roi and Dan and Las, so surely Ada wouldn't mind.
He reached up for the handle –a balancing act for which he had to put down his dragon – and opened the door a crack. He peeked right and left into the corridor. Not that he was sneaking or anything, but obviously Ada had wanted him to be careful, and Estel was mindful to listen to his ada. After all, Ada was the wisest and oldest elf in all Arda ('cept maybe Lorfy, who was really ain't-shan't).
Corridor – safe. Estel skipped along and reached the courtyard in record time. When he found his favorite trio, they were each standing with a fisted hand stretched out, so that they were crossing wrists.
"May the best elf win!" Dan was saying.
"And man!" piped Estel, hurrying forward. "What are we playing?"
They all had different reactions to his appearance, so he chose to concentrate on Las, who seemed the most happy to see him.
"Hello there, Estel," said the Mir-wood elf.
Estel was long past the stage of hugging people's knees, and he was glad that Las remembered that. The tall elf crouched down so that Estel could give him a warrior's embrace, complete with a masculine thump on the back.
He released the golden-haired elf and looked at his brothers. Never one to lose sight of his goal – unless bribed by honeyed oatcake – he insisted: "Well? Are we hunting orcs? Are we looking for a treasure?"
"Um, not this time, tithen pen." Las turned to the twins. "We're, uh..."
"Working," said Dan. "On something important."
Yeah, right. But two could play that game, and Estel was a master. He gave them a long-suffering look. "It's okay, Dan." He sniffled. "I understand. Work is portent."
He turned to leave, counting under his breath. One... two... three...
"Hold on, Estel!" Roi's voice reached after him. "I can use your help."
Estel turned with a beaming smile. "I'll help, Roi! Tell me how!"
As expected, Dan and Las were glaring at the younger twin, who seemed careful to look only at Estel.
"Come on, gwador-nin," he said, gesturing with his head towards the gardens. "I'll tell you everything. You'll be my special helper, won't you?"
Estel nodded eagerly as he skipped alongside his brother. "I can do everything," he promised. "Well, 'cept maybe draw Las's bow. Don't tell him, Roi, but I think the wood part isn't working."
Roi laughed, and Estel grinned. He loved to hear that melodic cascade of laughter, though sometimes, like now, he wasn't quite sure what caused it.
Finally he couldn't stand the suspense any longer. "What's our job, gwador?"
"Hmmm." Roi tipped his head in deep thought, which Estel recognized as both dangerous and exciting. "I need Adar's signature on some important scrolls," he finally said.
Estel scrunched up his face. "Ada said not to bother him because of the Mir-wood dele-thingy."
There went that laughter again.
"But these are important, Estel," said Roi once he calmed down. "They need his immediate attention. That's where you can help. Will you be my courier?"
"Uh..." Estel looked doubtfully at Roi's incredibly tall body. "I don't think I can carry you, Roi. You're a little too long."
What was so funny?
"I need you to carry the letters for me, gwador-nin. But you have to be very formal and polite. Can you do that, Estel?"
Estel nodded solemnly. "Sure, Roi. I'll watch the cat." His brother looked puzzled, and Estel gave a heavy sigh. "The etti-cat," he explained slowly and clearly. "Where are the scrolls?"
"In my room," Roi said. He was holding his sides by now. "Come on, gwador. Have I told you lately how much I love you?"
Estel rolled his eyes.
In Roi's room, which connected to Dan's through a door that usually stood open, the older elf sat at his desk. Estel bounced happily on the large bed while Roi scribbled away. His brother had some special magic that stopped the ink from splashing over parchment and fingers and robes and noses, but when Estel had begged him to teach it, Roi had laughed and said that it was only practice. Yeah, right.
"Here." Roi blew carefully on the parchment, rolled it, and tied it with blue cord. "Now, when you give it to Adar..."
Five minutes later, Estel was standing outside the conference hall where Ada was meeting the dele-thingy. Muffled voices drifted through the double doors. Estel gripped the scroll tightly and knocked.
Then Ada's voice: "Enter!"
Estel pulled on one round handle, but the door remained shut. He tugged harder. The door refused to budge. He clamped the scroll in his teeth, grabbed the handle with both hands, and heaved until the door opened.
Ada was sitting at the head of a long table, with Lorfy and Resto on either side. Estel peered around the room, but he didn't see a dele-thingy anywhere. Instead, the rest of the high-backed chairs were taken by tall, proud elves from Mir-wood.
"Estel," said Ada in his deep you're-in-troubles-young-man voice. "We're in the middle of a meeting. What have I told you?"
He was talking about the stay in the office thingy, but only because he didn't know about Roi's portent scroll. Which reminded Estel: He spat the scroll out, caught it in both hands, and walked up to Ada's chair. Like Roi had instructed, he gave a very formal bow and held out the missive.
"Su-ee-la-ed, Adar," he said, careful to pronounce the greeting properly. "I have a portent message from Lord Roi. He says it needs your imitimate – your imididat – he says you need to answer now, Ada."
There were muted coughs and wheezes around the table, but his ada only closed his eyes for a second. When he opened them, he reached out and took the scroll between two fingers – as far as possible, Estel noted guiltily, from where his teeth had left a wet mark on the parchment – and nodded his head.
"Thank you, ion-nin," he said.
Ada scanned through the scroll with a darkening frown. At the end he snatched up a quill and jotted his reply, though really, his writing looked more like saber-strokes. It must have been bad news, Estel thought. He watched anxiously as Ada rolled up the parchment and gave it back.
"Make sure Elrohir reads it," his ada said.
Estel did, then came back with another parchment. This time, Roi escorted him to the conference hall doors and opened them for him.
Estel skipped towards his ada, waving the new scroll. "I didn't bite it this time, Ada!" And then, "Oh!" And he dropped into another formal bow. "I have a portent message –"
The scroll was snatched from his hands before he could finish. Ada snapped it open, and his eyes darted back and forth as he read. His lips were thin.
Maybe, Estel thought, all the oatcakes had been stolen from the kitchen. That's what had caused Ada to look so angry the last time. Not that Estel had stolen them, exactly; he'd only wanted to make sure they were good before Cook served them.
Ada rolled back the scroll with precise, measured movements, re-tied it with the length of blue cord, and held it out.
"You forgot to write back, Ada."
Ada kept his hand held out. "Listen to me carefully, Estel."
Estel perked his head and pushed back his curls so that his ears would work better.
"You will not carry any more messages from Lord Elrohir."
"But he said it was portent –"
"You will also inform your brother," Ada continued, "that choosing his robes for tonight's dinner is not a crisis of Valarian proportions."
"But, Ada!" Roi's voice erupted from the doorway. "It's a formal dinner! And I really don't know what to wear!"
Estel, who'd whipped back towards his brother, heard muffled giggles behind the younger twin. Uh-oh. He turned back to their ada.
Ada – who looked much more like Lord Elrond than Ada right now – took a long, slow breath, held it in, then let it out.
"Estel," he said calmly – thank Eru – "you are dismissed."
Estel trotted out past Roi before Ada changed his mind. He joined Las and Dan behind the open door.
"As for you," his ada was telling Roi, "consider your attire dilemma solved, as you will not be attending tonight's dinner."
"Oh, Adar –"
"Moreover," Ada spoke over him, "you will take this first draft of a treaty – which Ambassador Elevar and I are trying to consolidate – and copy it word for word before sunset. Perhaps this will remind you that you have reached your majority. Allegedly."
Roi joined them with trudging steps and closed the conference hall doors behind him. He gave a small smile and a shrug.
Estel patted him on the forearm. "At least he didn't shout at you."
Which for some reason elicited smothered laughter from Dan and Las, though not from Roi.
It really wasn't the twins' day, Estel reflected some time later. He was hiding behind the fountain in the courtyard, outside the open window of the conference hall. Dan had somehow managed to fire a blunt practice arrow through that same window. Fortunately, the bolt had struck the opposite wall far above the heads of the gathered elves, and had clattered harmlessly to the floor.
Estel had run behind the fountain. "Hide!" he hissed at Dan and Las, who stood thunderstruck before the window. Dan's bow still dangled from his hand.
Too late. Lord Elrond's tall figure – definitely more Elf Lord than Ada, this time – appeared in the window. Even from his hiding place, Estel could see his piercing eyes fix on Dan and narrow.
"Sorry," Dan called out in a voice that was too cheerful by half.
Estel felt like banging his head against the fountain.
Lorfy's head appeared next to Ada's. Ada merely inclined his head and said something, too softly for anyone else to hear. Lorfy bowed and disappeared. Ada turned back to the room without another word.
Las patted Dan on the shoulder, then signaled Estel to come with him.
"We don't want to be around when Glorfindel gets here," he said.
Finally, someone with reason. Estel took Las's hand, and together they slipped into the house.
"He really should know better," Estel told Las, quoting Resto. "Ada said to don't this-turb him."
"You're very right, tithen pen. I don't know what the twins were thinking."
Las stopped so suddenly that Estel only discovered it five steps later. He turned and saw the older elf examining a branching corridor with his head tilted.
"That's the way to the kitchens," he reminded the Mir-wood elf.
"I know," Las said. "I have an idea."
Estel had a bad feeling.
Las was already walking down the side corridor. "Come on, Estel, I need your help."
It was almost time for refreshments, Las explained, and the Mir-wood elves had a very special taste in wines.
"But probably your Cook forgot about it," he said. "So we'll have to make sure they like the wine. Only we can't tell her, because it's not polite to remind people they're forgetful."
Estel squinted at Las as they walked side-by-side. "Are you trying to get me into trouble, Las?"
"No, tithen pen!" Las pressed a hand over his heart. "I swear!"
Estel screwed his face even more.
Las sighed. "Did Elrohir get you in trouble?"
"Not a zactly..."
"See? I'm just trying to prevent a political incident. Think of it as a rescue mission."
And so Las lured Cook out of the kitchen, and Estel slipped in and sprinkled a generous amount of salt into the pitcher of wine.
"Are you sure they will like it?" he asked Las when they were done.
"Don't you like salt in your wine?"
Estel shrugged. "Ada won't let me drink until I'm this old," he said, holding up a splayed hand.
"Well, don't knock it until you try it," said the Mir-wood elf.
Estel's bad feeling about their rescue mission grew worse as they headed for the conference hall. When a young elleth brought the refreshments, Las made sure the door remained ajar. Silverware tinkled. Liquid sloshed. Voices resumed conversation.
Then a violent fit of coughing, like rolling thunder, filled the air. Conversation gave way to splutters and muted curses.
The door tore open to reveal towering Lord Elrond.
Estel dashed over to him and hugged his leg. "Las made me do it!" He felt tears well in his eyes. "He said they had a special taste and we were on a polite mission to rescue the wine and Cook forgot and I won't get into trouble if I don't knock it, and I didn't knock, Ada, the elleth did!"
He relaxed a little when Ada's arm fell across his shoulders and pulled him closer.
"Prince Legolas," his ada's voice came from above, clear and soft and quiet, "would you care to explain?"
"Uh... It was... a joke?"
Estel buried his face against his ada.
"I see." Ada's voice was cold but still calm. "I'm very disappointed in you, young elf. Whatever conspiracy you and my sons have concocted, it was wrong of you to involve Estel. Kindly go to your quarters and wait for me there. I will address your behavior later."
"Yes, Lord Elrond."
With that, Ada entered the conference room and closed the door behind him. Estel heard him apologize to the Mir-wood elves.
He glared at Las, who was decent enough to blush. Then he turned on his heel and strode to his room. It was between satisfying and annoying that Las trailed behind him, dejected.
They met the twins halfway there.
"Did it work?" Roi said eagerly.
"Did he yell?" Dan added.
Estel stared at them with confusion.
"No," Las said with a sigh. "He was frighteningly calm."
"So no one wins," Roi said.
Estel had forgotten about that. "Wins what?"
"We made a bet," Dan said. "The first elf who makes Ada lose his patience –"
"And yell," Roi injected.
"Or swear," added Las.
"– is the winner," Dan finished.
Estel gaped at them for a long moment, then snapped his mouth shut and glared. "I'm not playing with you anymore," he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Morrover," Estel spoke over his brothers, "I'm not talking with you anymore."
Ada's voice came echoing down the corridor: "It's in my office. Come, we will be only a moment."
"Quick!" Dan pulled them into the nearby hallway. "Over here."
Momentarily forgetting his Declaration of Hostility, Estel joined the trio as they dropped to the floor and peered around the corner. Ada, along with Lorfy and a Mir-wood elf, was standing at the entrance to his office. He opened the door and walked inside.
There was a wooden creak, a whoosh, a flurry of robes and flailing arms, and Ada – Lord Elrond – went flying backward and landed on his back.
Estel, the twins, Las, Lorfy, and the Mir-wood elf all stared in shock as Lord Elrond picked himself up. The Elf Lord dusted off his robes and looked down. Then his dark-haired head snapped up.
"Estel Elrondion!" he bellowed. "Valar help me, if you ever leave that toy dragon on the floor again –!"