Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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Estel set down his pencil with a satisfied grin and Elrond looked up from his parchment. “Finished?” He held out his hand to accept Estel's work and began to scan the answers to the arithmetical problems he had set the child.

 

Estel dropped his chin into his hand as he awaited the verdict, his eyes drifting to the woods outside where a group of fully armed elven warriors was heading out to patrol Imladris' border.

 

Elrond signed his name with a flourish at the bottom of Estel's calculations. “These are all correct. I believe I shall have to make the next set of questions much more difficult.” He wrote as Estel began his usual stream of questions. Fortunately, Elrond had long ago learned to do both at the same time.

 

“Why do I have to learn sums, Adar? I want to be a warrior so wouldn't it be better if I learned fighting instead?”

 

“You are learning to fight,” Elrond replied as he composed. “You are becoming very proficient with a bow.”

 

“But I haven't learned about swords yet.” Estel nodded to the corner where a shield, taller than himself, a tattered banner and a beautiful sword were displayed. Although they had been there for as long as the youngster remembered he had never dared to touch them. Elrond had once told him that he had brought them back with him from the last great battle with the Dark Lord.

 

Elrond followed the direction of his longing gaze. “Do you not think that a warrior needs some understanding of mathematics too?”

 

Estel frowned. Adar always found a way to sidestep the issue of sword fighting. Indeed, all the grown-ups did. “I suppose so,” he answered a little peevishly. “But Dan and Roh can fight and even you have a sword.”

 

“You are too little to be able to use a sword effectively,” his Adar replied in a continuing attempt to discourage the youngster. Learning to use a bow was one thing for it could be used to provide food. There was only one use for a sword, however, and once hand was fitted to grip there could be no return to the innocence of childhood. Whilst Elrond acknowledged that Estel would need to begin lessons soon, he was not so sure that Gilraen would agree. The subject needed broaching at some point but it would have to be done with some delicacy.

 

His comment was met with a pout that had Elrond dropping his head to hide a smile, remembering too well having this same conversation with all three of his children. They too, had pouted prettily. He handed over a new page of mathematical problems and Estel began to read, with a long-suffering sigh at the intransigence of grown-ups.

 

“You are the leader of an army. Your enemy has two thousand troops. Advisors tell you that in order to win the battle you will require fifty troops more than he. You have only one thousand and forty troops at present but sufficient numbers have been promised by an ally. Of the additional warriors supplied by your ally, thirty are mounted. How many warriors on foot do you require of him?”

 

It seemed Adar was determined to push home his point. Should he assume that his additional warriors on foot would also require nine hundred and eighty swords, Estel wondered sourly as he picked up his pencil once more.

 

-0-

 

Estel knew where the practice court was, as he knew most of the corners of the Last Homely House. So, when he noticed Glorfindel and Elrohir both wearing their swords indoors, he guessed their destination and curiosity led him to follow at a distance. His presence was sensed long before they reached that destination, however.

 

Elrohir turned, silver eyes travelling unerringly to the pillar topped with decorative vase, behind which Estel had dodged. “I had thought better of you, Little Brother. Have we taught you to skulk in the corners like some fat spider?”

 

Estel stepped out, his face pink and voice barely more than a whisper. “No, Roh.”

 

Glorfindel folded his arms, hip-shot, as he studied the downcast little figure with some amusement. “If you are trying to hone your tracking skills you could at least have made a better attempt to do so quietly.”

 

Elrohir shot his companion a look that promised retribution at some later point.

 

“Oh, I tried,” Estel assured them innocently. “But there's no carpet in this hall and these are my outdoor boots.” He lifted one foot to display his heavy soled footwear. The elves had long since despaired of supplying him with shoes for they only seemed to last a few days before he destroyed them.

 

Elrohir looked from Glorfindel to Estel. “I think you are both missing the point here. Estel should not be following us at all. Why are you doing so?”

 

Estel's gaze flicked to the long swords hung at slender hips. “I wanted to watch you practice,” he confessed. “I'll be quiet. I promise. Can I watch?”

 

Before Elrohir could refuse Glorfindel stepped in. “I do not see why not. It is a skill you should learn at some point and watching is a good place to begin.”

 

“I am not sure that the Lady Gilraen would agree with you,” Elrohir murmured in an aside to his companion.

 

It seemed his voice was not pitched low enough to evade young ears trained by elves, however. “Mama says I am too young.” He tried out the pout that had so successfully softened hearts in the kitchens. “But I think she will always say that. I need to learn if I am to be a warrior. Even Adar has a sword.”

 

Elrohir sighed, having already been undermined by Glorfindel and finding himself not altogether immune to the pout. “You may watch from the balcony, just this once. Then I will ask Adar about lesso . . . oof!” His words were broken off by having the air knocked out of his lungs when Estel hurtled at his midriff.

 

“Thank you, Roh! I shall be as quiet as a mouse. I promise.”

 

Glorfindel chuckled. “I would be careful about making promises you may not be able to keep, Estel. Words issue from your mouth like water from a spring.”

 

Elrohir dropped to one knee and took his little brother's shoulders in his hands. His gaze captured and held Estel's firmly. “You must promise to make no sound, whatever happens. Glorfindel and I will be practising with real swords and if we are distracted somebody could get very badly hurt.”

 

Glorfindel snorted. “I doubt you would get close enough to hurt me, Elrohir.”

 

Elrohir chose to ignore the jibe . . . for the moment. “Your promise, Estel.”

 

The youngster placed a hand upon his heart. “I promise.”

 

For a moment longer Elrohir searched his foster brother's face, then he gave a brisk nod and stood. “Very well. Come with me.” He offered a hand and Estel slipped his much smaller one within it without hesitation.

 

At the end of the hallway Glorfindel slipped through some tall doors but Elrohir led his brother to the left, where a set of steps spiralled upward. At the top they entered through a smaller door and Estel found himself upon a narrow balcony that ringed the huge practice hall. Here and there chairs had been set and Elrohir led the youngster to one, drawing it a little closer to the elegantly carved railings so that Estel could see over the top. He gave one final injunction. “Remember. Not a sound.”

 

Remembering Glorfindel's observation, Estel nodded gravely, but his eyes lit with excitement as soon as Elrohir turned away. Eschewing the stairs, the peredhil vaulted over the rail to land nimbly several feet below and only yards from Glorfindel. The older warrior responded with raised brow and continued with a series of stretches.

 

Some minutes later the opponents turned to face each other. There was a whisper of glittering steel and two long swords were held aloft in silent salute. For what seemed to Estel to be an age, Elrohir and Glorfindel simply circled each other, their eyes locked, swords clasped in both hands, and he began to wonder if they were ever going to clash.

 

Suddenly Glorfindel feinted right and swung his long blade to the left in a line that, had it connected, would surely have sliced Elrohir cleanly in two, diagonally from shoulder to hip. Much to Estel's relief Elrohir dropped his own blade down and left, deflecting Glorfindel easily, and the two leapt apart once more.

 

Glorfindel was grinning but not for long. With no tell that Estel could see, Elrohir leapt up, spinning in mid-air to sweep his blade in a downward arc, so fast that Estel did not truly see it until it connected with Glorfindel's sword in a ringing clang. The two blades slid and then Glorfindel's was somehow on top as he drove Elrohir's to the floor. The opponents stepped apart and began to circle again.

 

Now Glorfindel danced in, sweeping his blade upward, the point only a hairs breadth from Elrohir's chest. Estel gasped, jumping from his seat, and that was the only distraction Elrohir needed to slam Glorfindel's blade to the side and down, suddenly presenting the pommel of his own sword to his opponent's exposed chin. Under normal circumstances Glorfindel would have tucked his head back to avoid the coming blow but Estel's sudden movement had caused him a split second of inattention and he staggered backwards as the pommel rapped smartly on his jaw.

 

Elrohir lowered his blade at once, stepping forward to examine the hurt. “How bad is it?”

 

Glorfindel stood for a moment, testing his jaw's range of movement. “I will live. It is not broken I think but it certainly smarts,” he replied ruefully.

 

Both warriors turned to the balcony where a wide eyed Estel stood, both hands clamped over his mouth.

 

-0-

 

The healing room was, to Elrond's mind, excessively crowded when one took into account the minor nature of the injury suffered. Glorfindel sat upon the edge of a bed, a bag of ice chips held to one side of his already blackening jaw. Behind him Elrohir was collecting swords, both his and Glorfindel's, and trying to make himself invisible. Little Estel stood to one side, having just apologised to Glorfindel for what, to Elrond's knowledge, was the fifth time. Behind the boy, Gilraen glared at Elrohir and Glorfindel equally and in turn. How precisely the lady had heard of the event so swiftly Elrond did not know, but she had arrived just as he handed Glorfindel the ice.

 

Elrohir had to admire Glorfindel's coolness under pressure for he only gave the lady a lopsided smile. For his part, Elrohir thought he would rather face a balrog than Gilraen's ire where her son was concerned. Now she folded her arms as she stepped forward. “And just who's idea was it to show my son the use of a sword?” Fire sparked in her eyes as she glanced from Elrohir to Glorfindel and then to Elrond.

 

Elrond only held up both hands in a warding gesture and stepped out of the line of fire. Glorfindel's grin faltered a little but it was Elrohir who finally came forward. “We only invited him to watch from the balcony. He was safe.” He regretted the final words as soon as he set them free and even Elrond winced.

 

Gilraen surged forward, wrapping protective arms about her son's upper torso. “Safe! Safe from a blade perhaps, but what of the knowledge? My son is far too young to learn of fighting and you were fighting with naked blades, for goodness sake! What would have happened if one of you had been really injured? Would his dreaming have been safe then?”

 

Glorfindel and Elrohir actually sank back under her tirade, just as surely as if she had wielded a sword of her own. With a swiftness rarely exhibited by him, Elrond stepped in front of her, deciding that there had been recriminations enough. “Peace, Lady Gilraen.” He nodded toward the little boy, who was on the verge of tears. “Take your son to the library, where Elladan awaits him for his Quenya lesson. Then join us in my private sitting room where we will discuss this further.”

 

Gilraen's nostrils flared but when she saw the distress in her son's face she turned about, ushering him from the room.

 

Elrond indicated for the duellers to follow him and two mighty warriors complied meekly.

 

-0-

 

“Please come in, Gilraen,” Elrond called out before the lady had time to knock upon the closed door. When she entered he was relieved to note, from the set of her shoulders, that some of the anger had dissipated and he offered her a glass of mulled wine as he ushered her to a chair before the fire.

 

Glorfindel had abandoned his ice pack, deciding that mulled wine would work just as well, and Elrohir was drawing up his own chair to join the semi-circle around the hearth. He waited for his father to be seated before settling.

 

Elrond addressed Gilraen. “How is Estel?”

 

Gilraen took a sip of her wine, judging it to contain too much cinnamon, before replying. “He was upset, but Elladan has abandoned their lesson and is reading to him from the Quenta Silmarillion. Estel seemed calmer when I left him.”

 

“If I am the cause for his upset I apologise, Gilraen.” Elrohir looked suitably contrite.

 

“We are equally guilty, my friend. It was I who first suggested we allow him to watch.” Glorfindel touched a tentative finger to the blackening swelling on his jaw and grimaced.

 

Elrond set down his cup. “It seems to me that you two are equally guilty but I would expect more sense from someone of your years, Glorfindel.”

 

Glorfindel shrugged his shoulders. “It seemed harmless enough.”

 

Gilraen drew breath to wield more harsh words but Elrond neatly inserted his comment before her. “I think we can discuss the wisdom of your actions for hours and be no further forward. What we need to decide is what action to take now.”

 

Gilraen had a strong opinion on that too. “We tell him that he is too young to take an interest in sword fighting,” she stated with what she hoped was some finality.

 

Elrond shook his head slowly. “I fear, lady, that the 'Celeg' is already out of the bag. Indeed, Estel broached the subject with me some days ago.” When Gilraen would obviously have chastised him he added, swiftly, “I tried to deflect him then, but it seems he is quite determined upon the matter.”

 

Elrohir nodded. “I saw him mock fighting a tree with a hazel switch last week.”

 

Glorfindel cradled his wine, rolling the cup between his palms. “Elven children do not show an interest so young. I know that Estel can already wield a bow but at what age do mortals usually begin to train in arms?”

 

Although he knew the answer already, Elrond deferred to Gilraen, who shifted a little uncomfortably in her chair. The lady tried to prevaricate. “Estel is safe here. He does not need to know how to defend himself.”

 

Elrond could only sympathise. “He is safe but surely it is not his fate to spend the rest of his life here? One day he will have to lead warriors. Think you they will respect someone who has not sufficient skill with a blade to defend himself?”

 

Gilraen swallowed the last of her wine, and used the short delay caused by Elrohir refilling it from the jug on the hearth, to martial her words. She discovered in the process that her arguments were thinning. “That is some years away. He needs time to be a child, still.”

 

Elrond's voice was calm but frank. “There will still be time for play but I believe, had he remained among his own people, Estel would by now have been taking instruction in the basics of swordplay for some months.”

 

Setting aside her cup, Gilraen held up her hands in surrender. “I was hoping my son could hold onto his innocence for just a little longer but I suppose it was inevitable.”

 

“I understand your mother's heart in this matter. I too, would love to hold onto the sweet little boy I taught to climb trees. But, elf or man, we all must face the fact that time marches on. Once Estel reaches adulthood he will be expected to take responsibility for his own defence at the very least. To develop the necessary strength to do so he must start young.” He laid a gentle hand upon Gilraen's. “Have no fear, he will soon discover that learning is not nearly as exciting as he imagines, and there is more to the fighting than slashing in anger at anyone who crosses his path.”

 

Gilraen could only frown toward Elrohir. It was well known, throughout the valley and beyond, that the twin sons of Celebrian regularly went out of their way to hunt orc; not because they were attacked but simply in remembrance of past hurts done to their mother. Elrond had long ago ceased trying to point out to them that orcs had no more control over their urge to destroy than he had over the colour of his eyes. Despite having as much reason as his sons to kill, Elrond had set aside his ire and would act only in defence. Anyone hoping to practice the healing arts should have no room in his heart for vengeance.

 

“Glorfindel will be responsible for teaching Estel to wield a sword,” he announced. Both Elrohir and Glorfindel looked up in surprise but Elrond only smiled. “I have always believed that someone who has learned that it is not always possible to win is the best person to teach another how and, just as importantly, when to fight.”

 

Elrohir glowered. “I have lost many fights.”

 

Elrond hid a sudden smile and Glorfindel chuckled before advising, “I do not believe that is a confession you should make known too widely, my friend.”

 

 

 

 

 

 




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