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‘What is the matter, little one?’ Glorfindel slid to the ground, regardless of his clean garb, and squeezed himself into the hollow behind the fruit bushes. He refrained from touching the child, who was both filthy and distressingly … liquid … but he eased his handkerchief out of his pocket and proffered it. After all, he had plenty of others and could well dispense with this one.
The child gazed at the white cloth blankly.
One would think, Glorfindel thought with some irritation, that the boy had no idea what to do with it. They remained at an impasse for a few moments, then the elf surrendered. With a heartfelt sigh, he spread the cloth and held it to the child’s nose. ‘Blow,’ he commanded.
Orders like that, Estel could understand.
He did as requested and Glorfindel folded the handkerchief fastidiously before using a clean corner to wipe away the tears and dirt. He inspected the child’s face and decided that he was now prepared to approach the boy more closely.
‘They will be back soon,’ he said gently, tucking the cloth into the boy’s belt. ‘They have other tasks besides being your playmates, Estel.’
The boy’s lip wobbled and his eyes filled with tears again. ‘I do not want them to get hurt,’ he said.
Glorfindel gathered up the child and drew him onto his lap. ‘They are very unlikely to get hurt,’ he said, too honest to deny that it was a possibility. ‘I taught them myself,’ he told the boy, ‘and they are very good warriors.’
‘But warriors get injured. Like Timbras.’
‘Sometimes they do,’ Glorfindel said, ‘but mostly the patrols come and go without any problems and you just have not noticed them.’ He hesitated. ‘Elladan and Elrohir have been on patrol many, many times.’
‘I do not want them to go.’
Glorfindel eased his long fingers through the tangled hair. ‘No,’ he sighed, ‘but they will go anyway – because it is their duty.’ He rocked the child soothingly. ‘Would you not rather wish them a good journey than have them leave without your saying farewell? They will be sorry if you are not there when they ride out.’
‘Perhaps they will not leave.’
How long had it been since Elladan and Elrohir had hidden his saddlebags in an attempt to prevent his own departure on some errand beyond the borders of Imladris? Glorfindel smiled at the memory. They had been rather older than Estel, he thought. Old enough to come up with a scheme to hold him back, at any rate. ‘They will still go,’ he said steadily.
Estel sighed explosively. ‘It is not fair. Can they not wait until I am big enough to go with them?’
Glorfindel’s lips twitched. ‘I am sure that you will ride out with them one day, Estel. But first you will have to learn to be a warrior fearsome enough to pass my very stringent requirements. I do not let just anyone bear arms in defence of Imladris, you know.’
‘Will they still be here?’ Estel asked with a sad acceptance. ‘Or have I missed them?’
‘I think you will find that they are delaying their departure as long as they can in the hope that you might be found.’
The child turned and wrapped his arms round Glorfindel’s neck and the elf rose with some difficulty, clasping the boy to him. ‘Be brave, little one,’ he said encouragingly. ‘It is not easy to be the one saying goodbye – but a smiling farewell makes it easier on those who must go.’
A slight movement made the elf look up. Gilraen put a finger to her lips and moved out of sight – doubtless to let those anxiously seeking the child know that he had been discovered and consoled. He grinned wryly. She clearly trusted him to deal with Estel’s sorrow – and he only hoped she knew what she was doing. He really did not feel adequately qualified for the job of comforting the child.
‘Who will play with me when Elladan and Elrohir are away?’ Estel sounded as mournful as if he was going to be forced to spend the next weeks shut away from all contact with other living beings
‘Your nana?’ Glorfindel suggested. ‘I daresay she knows lots of games that boys your age like to play.’
The child sighed, clearly unconvinced.
‘You could spend more time with your adar.’
‘Ada knows everything, but I do not think he is very good at playing,’ Estel objected.
‘Perhaps it is time he learned,’ Glorfindel said. ‘Maybe Elladan and Elrohir did not train him properly when they were young.’
Estel leaned back and placed one grubby hand on either side of Glorfindel’s face to gaze into his eyes. ‘Silly,’ he said disapprovingly.
‘Very probably.’ Glorfindel laughed. ‘I will help you,’ he promised. ‘We will make a point of extracting your ada from his study to play with you at every opportunity.’ He gave the boy a quick hug. ‘But first, let us join Elrond and your naneth to wish your brothers a safe journey and a swift return – and then we will plot our campaign.’
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