Returning Hope

Chapter One

Welcome Home, Little Love

"Faithfulness lives where love is stronger than instinct." Paul Carvel

"Ada rock?" inquired Estel, trying to snuggle deeper with within his father's embrace. The boy was still struggling with the effects of shock and couldn't enunciate more, but between father and son, words were not necessary.

His eyes assessing Elrohir's damaged face, Elrond carried Estel over to his sons. The twins each placed an arm around their father's back so that Estel was nestled inside a circle of love. They had waited for this moment for so long that they had to enjoy it together. Elladan kissed Estel's curls. "Welcome home, little love." Healing Hope

Elrond took a moment to survey the scene. As the wind carried swirls of leaves across the courtyard, the wounded elves were being transported to the healing wing. Elrond stood within the embrace of his sons; Estel snuggled in the center of the protective ring.

The Elven party returning Estel to Imladris had fallen under attack in the mountain passes, and if not for the timely intervention of Glorfindel leading a troop of Imladris' warriors, might well have been overcome completely. As it was, one Elf had been dragged away by the Orcs, never to be found again, and there were several other injuries, including Erestor and Elrohir. Elrohir had been stuck down by an attacking orc, and Erestor had been mistakenly clobbered in the head by Celos or Celon's hooves when he got too close to the stallions protecting Estel. The child, while physically unharmed, had none the less been traumatized by the ferocity of the orc attack and lapsed into shock.

Glorfindel moved a reluctant Erestor towards the house while Aradol was overseeing the removal of the mounts. Prince Legolas' horse would be housed in the family stable along side Asfaloth, Celon and Celos. The stable master was lovingly reproving Celos for sneaking off to follow his brother to Mirkwood even as he fished a carrot from his pocket for the feisty stallion. "Come along, you great streak of stubbornness," teased the stable master, as the three stallions followed him. Celon and Asfaloth were determined to get their share of carrots from Aradol as well.

Elrond was loath to break the family circle, but there were pressing matters to be handled. First and foremost was warming Estel, who had begun to shiver. The Elf Lord also wanted to see for himself the extent of the injuries to Elrohir and Erestor. Once his family was cared for, he would then attend Mistress Sariboril and her apprentices in the healing wing. Elrond had no doubts about Sariboril's skills, for she had long reigned supreme in the healing wing, but always wished to convey his personal concern for any within the hidden valley.

"Ada rock?"

The softly spoken words broke the Elf Lord's reverie. He smiled at the small child looking up at him with such trust. "Of course, Ion nín, we shall rock."

He looked at his oldest. "Elladan, will you see your brother upstairs? He appears to be unsteady yet."

As the younger twin opened his mouth to refute the assertion, a wave of dizziness swept him, causing him to groan softly.

Elladan chuckled, grateful to be the caregiver this time. "Come along, El. I have been the one kept in bed for far too long. It is your turn now." Elladan started to steer his twin towards the house, but winced as the motion pulled his injured shoulder. Smoothly he shifted his brother to his left side, content that, in the general hubbub, no one noticed.

"El?" questioned Elrohir, as he again felt the cloud of doubt in his brother's feä.

"Not now," whispered Elladan. "Let us see to Estel. You and I will talk later."

"Later," affirmed Elrohir, as the twins followed their father and younger brother into the house.

"Come on," smiled Legolas to Celeg. "Let us see if we can help Aradol. I admit I am anxious to see Fluffy."

"Fluffy?" gasped the Elite of Thranduil in horror. "The Noldor have a horse named Fluffy?"

Legolas could not help but chuckle. "Celeg, you are letting your prejudice show again," he chided gently. "Fluffy is a feline. Estel's feline to be exact."

As the Prince spoke, the feline in question - now a fat, yellow cat - came traipsing out of the stable, tail straight up in the air and the look of one who considers himself to be the master of all he surveyed clearly written on his face.

"Ah, there he is now," smiled the Prince, "and quite grown up, I see."

Fluffy dutifully rubbed his head against Legolas' legs, winding himself all around them so that the Prince could not move. Celeg was clearly amused at the sight of his Prince being cosseted by a cat. He bent down to pet the soft fur only to be rewarded with a sharp scratch on his hand.

"Ouch!" exclaimed the Elite. "Fiend of Udun," he growled.

"It would see that you have not made a good impression on dear Fluffy here," Legolas laughed.

"Surely they do not let one so little as Estel neat that wretched animal," growled Celeg.

Legolas could not help but chuckle. "Fluffy has grown quite large in the months we have been gone. I am sure that Lord Elrond will make sure of his trustworthiness before allowing him around Estel.

O-o-O-o-O

The family healing room on the third floor of the Last Homely House had been seeing far too much action of late, the Elf Lord decided as he settled into Estel's rock-ing chair. Elladan guided Elrohir to the closest bed. Retrieving the precious bundle at the foot of the bed, he turned and handed his father Estel's sunshine blankey. Only then did he sit down beside Elrohir to enjoy the site of Estel wrapped in his buttery blanket while curled against his Ada's chest. Asfaloth's bells tinkling softly as the chair rocked back and forth.

Outside dusk was rapidly falling, shrouding the valley in gray mists, and casting the room in deep shadows even as Glorfindel moved to light the lanterns. Soft candle light soon surrounded them in soft warmth as the wind outside became cold and uncomfortable and the trees swayed to its touch.

"Are you warm enough, Ion nín?" questioned Elrond.

"Umm humm," came the quiet reply.

Elrond's eyes shifted Elrohir as his hand cupped the side of Estel's face still bearing bruises and swelling. His eyebrow arched, he conveyed the silent message that he would hear the story of the injury later.

From the next bed, Erestor groaned as Glorfindel handed him a cup of water.

Elrond was immediately up. "Elladan, Ion nín, please take Estel. I must see to Erestor and your brother."

When Elladan reached for Estel, Elrond shook his head. "Be seated," he said, indicating the rocker, "and I will hand him to you."

The twin settled into the rock-ing chair and lifted his left arm to cradle Estel against the uninjured side of his body. As he looked down at the child, his heart swelled within his chest. "Welcome home, Little Love."

Estel's eyes were locked on his brother's face, and then – surprisingly – a small smile broke through the troubled façade for just a second before the shadow once again fell. "I missed you."

"As I missed you, little one."

Estel whimpered. "The monsters, Dan..."

"Shush, now, tithen pen, I know." And truly he did know, for the language of pain is universal and the twin had fought more than his share of darkness of late. Elladan nuzzled the soft curls of Estel's head and kissed his brother's forehead. "You are safe, Estel. No evil will touch you here."

As Elladan soothed and rocked Estel, Elrond evaluated Erestor's head injury. Once the seneschal had been assessed and had correctly identified the number of fingers the Elf Lord held up, Elrond relaxed a bit. "The blow to your head has caused mild damage to your brain, my friend. That is why you are experiencing headaches and dizziness. However, these problems should decrease with time. Rest now, and know that you have my gratitude for bringing home my sons."

"There is..." Erestor paused as the effort of trying to rise caused another round of vertigo. He sighed in frustration as Elrond's firm hand guided him back down. "There is much to tell," he lamented, unable to continue.

"Peace, Erestor," cautioned Elrond. "There will time enough for talk after you are recovered. Whatever has happened cannot be changed now. All that is important is that my sons are home safely, thanks in no small part to you."

Next Elrond turned to Elrohir. "Let me see to your injury, Ion nín."

"I am fine," lied the twin.

"And I have heard that before," finished Elrond. "Your eye is very nearly swollen shut, Elrohir, so do not think to tell me you are fine.

As Elrond fussed over Elrohir, Elladan rocked and soothed Estel. With Elrohir and Estel back, he could almost believe that the past weeks had all been naught but a night terror, and that the lingering weakness and pain in his shoulder would dissipate like the morning mists warmed by the rays of Anor.

Glorfindel knelt beside the rock-ing chair he had created when Estel was baby and held out a cup to the twin.

"Look Estel," crooned Elladan, "Glorfindel has brought you some warm milk, just the way you like it."

Estel's peeked at the Balrog Slayer through a rim of think lashes, but made no other response. Elladan helped him to sit up slightly and then held the cup to the boy's mouth. With a bit of coaxing, Estel managed to swallow a couple of sips, drawing a frown from Elladan. Estel usually loved his warm milk with cinnamon in it.

"Look what else I have brought you," proclaimed Glorfindel. "Ouch! Stop that you great pile of..."

"Glorfindel!" interrupted Elrond, as the warrior nursed his bleeding finger and looked sheepish.

From his bed, Erestor snorted in amusement. "This from the great slayer of Balrogs."

Estel's confused eyes went from the strangely acting Glorfindel to his brother, before brightening as his yellow cat pranced from behind the Golden One's legs. Estel sat up, showing the first animation he had shown since the orc attack. "Fu-luh-fee," he breathed. "You growed up." He stretched to scratch his pet's head, while Elladan prepared to intervene should the cat show any aggression. However, Fluffy was the model of cooperation as he allowed the little boy to stroke his head. Soon a loud, deep purr resonated throughout the room, and Elladan grunted as Fluffy's solid body pounced onto his lap to join Estel.

Elrond opened his mouth to protest the addition of the animal to the healing room, but the words died on his lips as he watched Estel responding. Estel even giggled as Fluffy continued to purr loudly even while batting absentmindedly at Asfaloth's bells. 'Well, perhaps it was time for an exception to be made...at least for tonight,' for how could a father's heart not melt at the sight of his son's sweetest smile?.

Translations:

Ion Nin - My son

Tithen Pen - Little One

Ada - Daddy

A/N: I was not sure that I would ever again be able to write, but here we go. This first chapter is small, but a happy start, I hope, to what will be a heart-warming story. My thanks to all who have written to encourage me this last year. ~ Ivy