Laeranor blew her hair upward off her nose as she stretched her arm to thrust her featherduster behind an armoire. It never failed to astonish how dust and cobwebs collected on the back of furniture. You'd think Master Elrond could wave his hand and banish dust from the Last Homely House, but it seemed his powers in that regard were somewhat limited. Or perhaps he had never thought to do anything about it since his staff was so diligent about keeping his home spotless. Maybe she should bring it up sometime. It was nearly Mettarë, after all, and perhaps he could, in the gift-giving manner of the Dúnedain, bestow upon her the gift of banishing dust forever.

She had squeezed herself more tightly against the armoire, reaching back as far as she could, when she heard the sniffle. From inside the armoire. She froze, then put her ear up to the wood. She heard another sniffle, followed by a tiny little sob. "Oh dear," she whispered. She walked around to the front and knocked softly. "Estel, is that you in there? It's me, Laeranor."

Silence.

"Estel?" She opened the door slowly, then smiled sadly down at the tiny little boy huddled in the corner. "Estel, dear child. Come here." She opened her arms and he threw himself into them, and the sniffles turned to sobs. She patted his back and carried him to a chair, settling herself down with him on her lap. She knew what was wrong; everyone knew what was wrong. Estel's beloved cat had died, and he was inconsolable. Though nearly everyone in the House had taken their turn at holding him and comforting him, nothing seemed to help, not even trying to distract him with promises of a wondrous Mettarë. The Elves and his mother still found him in closets and corners, crying and sucking his thumb. It had been a heartrending two days.

Poor Feffers, as Estel had called her because he couldn't manage Feathers, had been a venerable thing, having lived a long life even before Estel's arrival in Rivendell. Estel had taken an immediate liking to her and the magnificent tail for which she was named, but at not quite three, he was too young yet to understand the natural order of animals' lives. He only knew that his beloved cat had died, just as his father had died, and he would never see either again. As she held him close, she felt all but swamped by the waves of grief that shook his little body. Ah, Elbereth, she prayed as she rocked him back and forth. Why must Feathers have passed so soon, not even a year after this little one lost his father and his home and all that was familiar and loved?

It seemed so unfair.

She hummed softly under her breath, wondering if she needed to find his mother, but then looked up as the door opened. Her heart leapt as Elladan stuck his head in. She felt her cheeks turn rosy and sternly told herself to stop being so silly. There was not a chance under the sun nor moon of her ever capturing his heart, and even if she did, he was a prince in all but name and she a simple housekeeper. He was luxurious silk and she merely homespun wool, but still... tell that to her heart. She'd hopelessly and secretly held a candle for him for the last fifty of her three hundred years, and nothing would likely change that.

He looked at Estel and hurried over. "May I?" he asked softly.

"Please do. I don't seem to be helping him much. I was just thinking I needed to find Lady Gilraen."

"I suspect she is frantically searching for this little mite." Elladan brushed his hand softly over Estel's brown curls, his expression unreadable. "Curse the darkness of this world and the pall death has cast over all," he whispered. A brittle light in his eyes gave Laeranor a frisson of fear, but then he seemed to shake himself and his expression softened, the dreadful warrior locked away out of sight. She was reminded again how much he had changed in the last few months, as he finally warmed to little Estel. He'd had a hard time of it, when Arathorn died, and she remembered how cold he had been toward everyone, but especially toward Estel. She knew he'd locked his heart away out of guilt and fear of losing another loved one, but understanding the reasons did not make them any less heartbreaking. How relieved they all were when the little boy had finally charmed his way past all his well-constructed barriers! Now Elladan could barely be parted from Estel when he chanced to be home in Rivendell. He'd even given the boy a nickname, Littlest Warrior. Elrohir often rolled his eyes and wondered aloud if brother's brain had turned to sticky treacle, an accusation Elladan routinely leveled at him, but Laeranor noticed that he spent plenty of his own time fussing over the child. They were quite a pair, these two sons of Elrond, constantly vying for the child's affections. Surely no child of either Elf or Man ever had such doting big brothers.

Elladan lifted Estel from her lap and straightened, settling him on his hip. "Come, Littlest. We will find your mother, but first I've a surprise for you."

Estel buried his face in Elladan's neck. "No s'pwise. Want Feffers."

"I know. But I think you might find you will like my surprise. Come with us, Laeranor." He winked, and intrigued, Laeranor abandoned her housekeeping to hurry after them.

He carried Estel out of the house and to one of the big stable buildings, then climbed into the loft. She was huffing a bit by the time she reached the ladder. She eyed it, wondering how best to manage long skirts on steep steps, but finally gathered them in one hand and, tossing the bulk of it over her shoulder, scrambled up before anyone could see her legs sticking out. She probably looked like some ridiculous crane or worse, a stick insect, all gangling long legs scaling the rungs. Just as well Elladan had already disappeared into the loft. She reached the top, shook her skirt back in place, and found that Elladan had knelt down near a pile of hay, his arm securely around Estel standing beside him. They were absorbed in watching something just the other side of the hay. She quietly joined them and saw a litter of kittens gamboling about in a nest that the mother cat had hollowed out in the pile.

"Look there, Estel," Elladan said. "These are Feathers' grandchildren. Would you like to pet one?" Without waiting on a reply, he scooped up a tiny little grey kitten. "She looks like Feathers, doesn't she."

Estel still had his thumb in his mouth, but he reached out one finger and stroked the top of the kitten's head, between her ears.

Elladan smiled. "I think these are ready to be weaned. Would you like to take this one home with you?"

Estel regarded him very solemnly, then nodded.

"Very good. She'll be lonely, missing her mother, so you will need to give her lots and lots of cuddles. Can you do that?"

The faintest hint of a smile behind the thumb. He nodded again.

"I'm very glad to hear it. Now, pull your thumb out of your mouth and take her. Hold her gently. Yes, just like that. You're a smart boy, Littlest. You already know how to hold a kitten! What will you name her?"

Estel looked down at the kitten in his arms. "Feffers."

"Oh." Elladan opened and shut his mouth, obviously searching for a response to that, but finally glanced at Laeranor and gave her a comical shrug. He turned back to Estel and rubbed the kitten's chin. "Feffers it is, then. May I present Feffers, granddaughter of, er, Feffers. May she be as lovely as her grandmother." Elladan gave the little boy a kiss atop his head and then winked at Laeranor, who gave up trying to be coy about wiping her eyes. She lifted her apron and blew her nose. He smirked at her sentimentality, then scooped up Estel and Feffers. "Time for some Mettarë honey cake, I think. I'm hungry, and I know Cook has just taken a batch of them out of the oven."

He started to whistle as he descended the ladder, deftly balancing both Estel and Feffers as he went. Oh how she wished at that moment she was anyone else, and that her wretched feather duster wasn't waiting–

"Laeranor! Hurry up or we'll leave you nothing but the crumbs!"

She hurried after him, feeling as though she had received her own Mettarë gift. The cobwebs could wait. One never refuses the invitation of an Elf lord, after all!

-fin-

2012 B2MeM prompts used: All OC's: Housekeeper; AofA: Estel; Beasty: Cat, Crane; Economy: Luxury Items;Life Events: Death; Rangers of the North: Gilraen