|About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search|
Estel tried to ignore the gentle shaking that interrupted his dream. It was a much better dream than the last. Rather than scolding him for disobeying, his father had come and was taking him home. He was not ready to wake and leave it—he had no wish to return to whatever new crisis or dilemma might appear today. Life had become confusing and frightening. The nudging grew more insistent, however, and finally he sighed, dragging himself out of the depths of sleep. Before he even opened his eyes, however, he felt the warm, gentle embrace enclosing him. The events of the night flooded back to him, and Estel sucked in a quick breath.
The embrace tightened, and a hand brushed at his hair. A familiar, beloved voice chuckled softly above him. “Good morning, my son.”
“Ada?” Estel pulled back to stare into Elrond’s face, tears springing immediately to his eyes. His father was here. It was no dream. Elrond smiled and pulled him close again.
“Although, it is just past noon now. Morning has passed while you slept.”
Estel breathed out in a rush and nestled in, brushing away the tears. He didn’t even care that he was far too big to be sitting in Elrond’s lap. “I knew you would find me.” He blinked. “But, I didn’t know you would come.” The words made little sense, spoken aloud, but Elrond understood.
His father, Estel had discovered, usually did.
“How could I not? You are so very precious to me.” Estel smiled faintly, blinking and swiping away more wetness. Elrond sighed then, straightening out of their embrace. “I regret waking you, but I believe it is time you ate, and I wish to see whatever hurts you may have. It will not do to leave them to become infected.”
The word ‘infected’ brought a quick flash to Estel’s mind of Jerold Ferrier, senseless and sweating. He shivered, and Elrond frowned down at him.
“Estel?” He shook his head, but Elrond pressed him. “Come. What troubles you?”
He sighed, and scooted off of his father’s lap to sit beside him. “Master Ferrier’s arm was infected. He … we found a healer, but it...” Estel couldn’t seem to say it, but Elrond nodded gravely.
“Ah. Yes, I know.”
Estel stared. “You do?”
“Indeed. I expect that all of us have much to share of the last weeks.” Elrond rubbed Estel’s back briefly. “For now, however, I will only say that I regret very much that you were made to face such an ordeal.” Estel nodded, sifting the gritty dirt between his fingers. His father squeezed his shoulder once, then rose smoothly. “Come. Let us eat, and then we will talk.” Estel nodded again, more enthusiastically, and followed his father to the pot of soup steaming over the banked fire. They seemed to be alone in the clearing, except for Dorhaur, who slept in his bedroll beneath one of trees. Estel looked quickly to his father, but Elrond had seen the direction of his gaze. “He is well—a deep scratch in the thigh that should heal without incident. He sleeps off the pain herbs now.”
Estel swallowed hard and nodded, grateful that the Ranger had taken no worse hurt in saving him. He wondered where the others might be—he remembered speaking to Elrohir last night (really this morning, he supposed), and had heard Elladan and Glorfindel in the ravine with Dorhaur. He wondered if Dorhaur’s captain had ever arrived. He wondered how his family had finally managed to find him. Indeed, so many questions circled in his head that he could not imagine waiting to talk until after they had eaten. The rich scent drifting from the kettle, however, reminded him suddenly how long it had been since his last meal, and all thought of questions fled. Estel fell to the food in earnest, only looking up again when his second bowl had been wiped clean.
Elrond had been sitting silently, watching with a faint smile, but now he gestured to Estel’s foot. “I see a hole in your boot, and you have torn up your knees and palms. Are these the worst of it, or—”
“Ah! The sleeper awakes!” Estel spun around and launched to his feet, flinging himself the few steps into Glorfindel’s embrace. His teacher—his friend—laughed, squeezing him tightly. “It is good to see you, youngling. We have been much concerned for your safety.”
Estel squeezed tighter. “Thank you.”
Glorfindel dropped a kiss on the crown of Estel’s head, then ruffled that area vigorously. “You are most welcome.” He stepped back then and Elrohir took his place, embracing Estel again though they had already greeted each other. Glorfindel spoke to Elrond. “I saw no sign of additional wargs in any direction. Nor did I see sign of the ones that we slew, other than in the ravine itself. It is possible that they were trapped as well, and were travelling its length in search of escape.”
Elrond nodded, then looked to his son. Elrohir spoke over the top of Estel’s head. “He brought two horses with him. They are tethered outside the campsite, opposite ours, and he has spent all the morning in their company. I do not believe that he will venture much beyond—certainly he seems to have no plans to leave this area.”
This time, Elrond sighed. “Very well.” Estel wondered who ‘he’ might be, but Elrond shook his head at Estel’s curious glance and motioned for him to sit. Sighing—no one ever told him anything—Estel thumped down and worked his boots off of his feet. Elrohir picked up the damaged boot, examining it as Elrond turned his attention to the damaged foot itself. He rose and crossed to rummage in one of the packs, then returned, carrying boot, pack, and a wickedly sharp hunting knife. As Elrond examined the deep, narrow gouge in Estel’s sole, Elrohir measured the boot against the flap of the pack and began cutting a temporary inner boot sole from the sturdy leather. When Estel hissed with discomfort at his father’s manipulations, his brother looked up.
“Come. Tell me how you would mend this boot were you alone in the wild, without my pack to mangle for your purposes.”
It was the type of surprise question that he normally disliked, but Estel was thankful for the distraction as Elrond finished with his foot and moved on to his knees, his palms, and his shoulder, which had twisted and been bruised in the fall. The shoulder was a bit of a surprise—he had forgotten it until Elrond pressed gently in the hollow between arm and chest, eliciting a gasp and a flare of pain. Even with that, however, Elrond looked pleased as he finished and sat back.
“You have taken very little damage for your adventures, and none of it serious. I am relieved.” He smiled, and Estel saw the truth of that assertion on his father’s face. Elrond continued. “I believe a good cleaning will suffice for most of the scrapes—there is a small river nearby which will certainly do for that task. We will wrap your foot so that it does not rub when you walk, but I think that as long as they are kept clean, the rest can be left to heal on their own.”
More than willing for a wash and a swim, even though it would further delay his questions, Estel reached for his boots. Before he could grasp them, however, Elrohir ducked under his extended arm and rose smoothly, dangling Estel over his shoulder. Estel coughed out a surprised shriek and struck at Elrohir’s arm with a balled fist. “Put me down!” His brother ignored him, however, and Estel was just as happy that he did.
Elrohir turned his nose into Estel’s side, sniffing ostentatiously. “You are overripe, brother mine. Let us see what may be done about that.” Glorfindel tossed them another pack as they passed, which Elrohir snatched from midair with his free hand as he strode out of the clearing toward the stream. Estel was dizzy but laughing as they reached its banks, and hung limply as Elrohir trailed along its edge. He realized too late what his brother intended, and was unable to put up much of a fight when Elrohir heaved him bodily into a deeper hole. He surfaced sputtering, and sent a useless wave of water splashing toward the bank before he set about stripping his sodden clothing.
His brother tossed him soap and he washed twice, then scrubbed his hair three times before he was satisfied. The soap was nearly gone by then and Estel let it drift away, laying back in the chilly current and paddling slowly. The trees rustled, and a jay squabbled about something off to the side, and a squirrel darted along one of the branches that stretched over the water. The ripple of the water was soothing, and he was safe.
He was safe.
Estel didn’t even realize that he was crying until Elrohir called to him. “Estel, come back.” Embarrassed, he ducked his face into the water and rubbed at his eyes as he splashed back.
“Sorry,” he muttered as Elrohir met him, holding out a large, clean tunic (probably Glorfindel’s) that he was meant to use as a towel. His brother shook his head.
“You have no reason to be.” Elrohir wrapped the tunic around him and embraced him tightly, then moved off to give Estel some privacy as he dried himself and dressed in the clean clothes he found waiting. They were soft and felt like they had come straight from the Valar themselves. He pulled on his newly repaired boots, then walked with Elrohir back to the campsite.
Elladan was depositing several rabbits and a cloak full of berries near the fire as they entered the clearing. Estel grinned, quickening his pace.
“You missed the mushrooms.”
Elladan turned, grinned, and bounded across the clearing to lift Estel off of his feet in an enthusiastic embrace. “Estel! You’ve led us on quite the chase, brother!”
“Mind his shoulder, Elladan.”
Estel managed a tight squeeze before Elladan set him down. His brother lifted one eyebrow, returning to his scattered offerings. “And I did not miss the mushrooms. I do not care for them, and I therefore did not bother to gather any as I passed.”
Elrohir snorted, moving past to spread Glorfindel’s wet tunic out on top of a pack. “He missed the mushrooms, Estel. Don’t let him tell you otherwise.” Elladan pulled a face at his twin. Elrond rolled his eyes at both of them, then beckoned Estel toward him, holding out a wrapped square.
“I believe the topic of mushrooms is irrelevant in the face of maple candy.”
Estel gaped, then scurried around the fire and snatched the bundle from Elrond’s hand. His mother’s maple candy was his very favorite treat, sweet and gooey and filled with walnuts, and it was difficult now not to gulp the entire piece in two quick bites. Elrond watched him, smiling.
“There is more for later, never fear.” His eyes softened. “Your mother sends her love.”
The reminder of Gilraen sobered Estel, and he folded to the ground beside Elrond. “How is she?”
“She is frantic, of course, and misses you deeply.” Estel looked down, stricken, and Elrond gently squeezed the back of his neck. “She is a strong Woman, Estel, and does not easily lose hope. She will be well and waiting when you return.”
Estel nodded, still studying the glowing ash deep in the fire. He knew that Gilraen was strong as well as beautiful, but that did not make him feel any better about worrying her. Finally, he drew in a deep breath. He could not do anything for her now, but he could make amends with his father.
“I am sorry I disobeyed you.”
A moment of surprised silence followed his words, then, “In what way did you do so?”
Elrond’s voice was gentle, and Estel found it easier than he had expected to tell the tale of his encounter with Ferrier in Rivendell. When he had finished, Elrond was silent for a long moment, then sighed deeply.
“It is true that I have set this rule for your protection—though I do not believe any could truly have anticipated such an event as this. It is indeed for the best that you remain hidden from outside eyes until you are grown.”
Not for the first time, Estel wondered why. This did not seem the time to ask. Instead, he mumbled, “I understand, Ada.”
“I know you do.” Elrond pressed Estel’s shoulder. He looked up into his father’s grave eyes. “But you have a good, kind heart, my son, and neither do I wish for it to become buried beneath fear and mistrust. It is not wrong to show pity and compassion.”
Estel frowned. “Then what should I have done?”
Elrond laughed softly, wry rather than amused. “If I one day stumble upon the correct answer, you will be the first to know of it.” He squeezed Estel’s shoulder again, then released it, sitting back. As if on cue, the twins and Glorfindel settled around the fire, and for a time they all rested silently in its cheerful warmth. Estel pondered his father’s words, more unsettled than he would have admitted that even Elrond seemed to have no answers for some dilemmas. Finally, he turned his mind away from the question and asked another.
“How long did it take before you knew I was not in Imladris anymore?”
As one, the Elves winced.
“Longer than we would have liked.”
“The entire valley has been searched, my Lord.” Glorfindel’s voice and expression were tight. He neither liked the news nor cared to be presenting it to the Master of Imladris and the Lady Gilraen, but the task must fall to someone. “He has not been found.”
The group gathered in Elrond’s office was grim and weary, and though none would admit it, disheartened. The hunt had been ongoing for two full days, as the entire valley of Rivendell had been scoured and then searched again. Most of those before him now had led a team of Elves, and it was quite likely that no one here had slept in that time—excepting Gilraen, who had snatched only a few fitful hours in bits and pieces since Elrohir had returned a day and a half into the hide and seek to report his growing conviction that something had gone amiss with Estel. The rivers and caves had received special attention, given the copious rain and soft ground of late, but they revealed nothing—even as the forests, the pastures, and the multitude of riding and walking trails had revealed nothing.
Despite the continuing uncertainty, Elrond could not find it in himself to be sorry that nothing had been found in their depths.
“We are missing something!” Elladan burst out suddenly, straightening from his place against the wall beside his brother. Elrohir’s attention remained focused not so much on the discussion at hand as upon the vast valley which stretched away beyond the window. He had been quiet over the past days, and Elrond knew that his son had spent much time second-guessing the length of time he had allowed to pass before his initial return. Elladan paced restlessly. “We’ve not only not found Estel, but we’ve found no trace of him.” He stopped, shaking his head. “That cannot be right. Even if he fell into a river or a cave …” he cast an apologetic glance toward Gilraen, who seemed unaware that she had even produced any sound, “… even if it rained for days and rivers of mud covered every path in Imladris, with so many of us searching we should have found some sign of his passing.”
“What is it you are suggesting?” Glorfindel demanded, and Elladan pivoted away, frustrated.
“I do not know. But something about this entire scenario is wrong.”
Low murmurs were beginning to run throughout the room, and Elrond spoke before others could become involved in any manner of debate over his son’s proclamation. They did not have the time, and could not afford to allow short tempers to flare.
“I agree.” All eyes returned to him. He nodded to both Elladan and Glorfindel, then returned his gaze to the broader gathering. “The fact remains, however, that we do not know what that may be.” Elrond rested his forehead upon steepled fingers and took a long breath, attempting to focus his rather scattered thoughts. Sighing deeply, he admitted, “It can be truly said that we do not know anything beyond his movements on that first day, correct?” Glorfindel nodded agreement, reluctant and embarrassed. Elrond massaged his temples, sparing what he hoped was a sympathetic glance for his friend. “So. He left the House just past noon. He was …”
From the corner of his eye he observed Erestor stir, but before his advisor could speak, Faurín stepped abruptly forward. “Forgive me, my Lord, but that is incorrect.”
Elrond gaped briefly, then straightened. “Explain.”
“Estel left the House at mid-afternoon. I witnessed him from across the stable yard, assisting the Man Ferrier with his packs.”
“Ferrier?” That made little sense. Estel knew that he was not to approach strangers from outside the valley, and had always obeyed this stricture to the best of his ability—little though he liked it. Elrond frowned, attempting to reconcile this piece of information with his own last encounter with his son. “Just past lunchtime he told me that he was nearly ready to depart. That was hours before Ferrier began loading his wagon.”
The horse master shrugged diffidently. “To that I cannot speak, my Lord. I only know that Master Ferrier dropped his belongings and Estel helped him to gather them. Ferrier went ahead then, and Estel carried his pack down to the wagon.”
“I know nothing of any interactions Estel may have had with Master Ferrier,” Erestor added quietly, “but I can verify that his essay on the fall of Annúminas did not appear on my desk until mid-afternoon. I was not in my office when he left it, but—”
“I am a fool.”
Every head in the room swiveled toward Elrohir, whose face had drained of color. Elrond began to stand, alarmed, but Elrohir pushed away from his place on the wall and, before any could question him, strode from the room.
Startled silence reigned for the space of several heartbeats, then Elladan swept after his brother. Elrond followed on his heels, which seemed the cue for a general exodus from the office. They wound through the halls of the House, out a rear entrance, and across toward the stables, where Elrond found Elrohir crouched at the far rear of the structure, gazing with unseeing eyes across the a patch of ground near the side wall. He waited only a moment before speaking.
His son rose abruptly, expression bleak. “He is with Ferrier. At least, he was in Ferrier’s wagon.” Elrond felt his mouth actually fall at this outrageous pronouncement, and a swift buzz exploded from the gathered Elves. Elrohir shrugged, ignoring all but his father. His jaw was tight with strain. “It is the only explanation.”
Elrond managed to find words, if not equilibrium. “Perhaps you would care to share this explanation?”
Elrohir gestured curtly to the ground. “The wagon that we provided to Ferrier was set here, correct?”
“Aye.” Arila, one of the stable Elves, stepped forward. “I put it there myself, so that the Man would not be required to go all the way to the sheds with his belongings.”
Elrohir nodded a terse acknowledgment. “Estel’s path when I set out from the House led here, but no further.” He stood. “I assumed that he had used the wagon to boost onto the stable roof, and had gone from there to one of the trees.” Elrohir looked to Elrond. “He has done it before—several of these larger trees overhanging the stable are easy enough for him to navigate without returning to the ground, and from them he is able to find purchase on the rocks there,” he gestured to a rocky outcropping in the hill that rose behind the stable, “or there, or there.” Elrond lifted an eyebrow. It was a risky endeavor for a child of Men, even with the solid branches so near the rock. He had been unaware of the extent of Estel’s climbing activities, and from the soft gasp beside him, it was safe to assume that Gilraen had not know of her son’s acrobatics, either. Elrohir grimaced. “I did not follow him onto the roof. I went around and up the path, to pick up his trail when he reached the top.” His glance was pleading and apologetic. “There are only a few places above that he would have been able to come out from here …”
Elladan shook his head. “I would have done the same.”
“And I,” Glorfindel admitted reluctantly. Elrond wondered briefly if the whole of Imladris other than himself and Gilraen knew of this habit of Estel’s. It was, he supposed, not the time. “He does tend to find himself on top of any roof he can reach,” the blond Elf sent a quick glance at Elrond, as if aware of his Lord’s thoughts, “and after the first few, tracking him across them becomes … tiresome.”
Elrond brought the subject back around. “So. We may have found no sign because there was never any to find.”
“The ground where his tracks ended was scuffed and unclear, but Ferrier was not stable on his legs and could easily have fallen, or dropped a pack.” Elrohir’s face was drawn. “I did not even think …”
A hand on his arm interrupted him, and Elrohir looked down into the face of the Lady Gilraen. Her face was pale, but for the dark circles beneath her eyes, and her hand trembled. Her eyes, though, were determined and her voice firm. “Who would have, my Lord?” She waved a hand toward the gathered Elves. “None of us here. It is far beyond what anyone could anticipate.” Gilraen drew a deep breath then and looked to Elrond, though her hand still gripped Elrohir’s arm. “You will follow this man?” It was a question, but only just.
Elrond nodded, plans already half-formed in his mind. Over the gathered heads, he could see Glorfindel already on his way back to the House.
“Indeed.” He pressed his lips together. “It is our only course, truly.” He looked toward Elladan. “You escorted him to our borders, yes?”
Elladan nodded, his face twisted. “Aye. I saw no sign that anything was amiss, but I did not inspect the supplies in the wagon …”
Elrond waved an abrupt hand. “And you had no orders to do so.” He grimaced. “Elrohir did not check the roof, you did not check the wagon, I did not insist that the Man remain to be treated. None of those actions were necessarily inappropriate at the time, though they may seem so to us now, and a dozen other circumstances added in as well. Self recrimination is pointless and will only hinder us.” He glanced toward Elrohir, who drew a slow breath and nodded once, eyes settling from distress into determination and calm. Elrond nodded, approving, then returned his gaze to Elladan. “But you will best be able to pick up his trail.”
His son nodded. “Aye, Adar. We will be ready within the hour.” Elladan touched Elrohir’s arm briefly, some signal that only the two of them recognized, then followed Glorfindel toward the House. Elrohir paused before following, lifting Gilraen’s hand from his arm to squeeze it gently.
“We will not fail, my Lady.”
Her return grip was firm. “I trust you, and I believe you.” Her back was straight and her eyes determined, and Elrond thought again that Arathorn had chosen his bride well. Gilraen’s voice quivered only on the final words. “Bring him back.” Elrohir nodded, released her, and went after his brother. She watched for an instant, then looked to Elrond.
“I will gather fresh clothing to send along—who knows what state his will be in when he is found.” Without waiting for a response, Gilraen picked up her skirts and hurried toward the house. Elrond turned back to his audience, searching until he found the horse master at the rear.
“Faurín.” The Elf moved quickly to his side. “We will leave within the hour.”
“We, my Lord?”
Elrond managed a curt nod, rather than a snappish reply that he would later regret. He had not left Imladris for many years—it was unsurprising that Faurín should be startled.
“Glorfindel, Elladan, Elrohir, and I. Have our mounts prepared.”
“Of course, my Lord.” The horse master bowed and pivoted toward the stable, motioning to two others who had been drawn by the commotion. Elrond took a long breath, already working mentally through the list of supplies that he would need for this journey. They still did not know how his son had been taken, though he could guess why—Ferrier's illness and his insistence that his own son had been hidden away did not bode well for the only child of Men in Imladris. Elrond hoped desperately that Estel was well—frightened, undoubtedly, which tore at his heart, but well. Still, he knew from long experience that he must prepare for anything.
“Here, my Lord.”
Indeed, his advisor and friend was already at his side. Elrond gestured for him to follow, and ignoring the others who still lingered, they made for the House to prepare for his absence.
|<< Back||Next >>|
|Home Search Chapter List|